81-year-old Sebring woman arrested for feeding bears - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

81-year-old Sebring woman arrested for feeding bears

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Mary Mussleman, 81, is accused of feeding bears. Highlands County Jail booking photo Mary Mussleman, 81, is accused of feeding bears. Highlands County Jail booking photo
A Neighbor of Mary Mussleman took this photo. A Neighbor of Mary Mussleman took this photo.
HIGHLANDS COUNTY, FL (WFLA) - An 81-year-old woman is behind bars at the Highlands County Jail after she was arrested for feeding bears.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers say Mary Mussleman refused to stop feeding bears at her Sebring home.

"She was putting out corn, dog food and a number of other things. She was also feeding Sandhill cranes which is illegal," said Gary Morse With FWC.

One of Mussleman's neighbors, Linda Sbiegay, said she has seen the bears over the past several months. "When we left cat food in the front porch and got up in the morning and there was this big rip in the screen," said Spiegay.

"It was nice big paw prints on the screen. It was kind of cool."

Speigay and other neighbors said they weren't afraid of the bears but they're cautious. "I don't go out at night without a flashlight. I do not want to be surprised."

The bear feeding was first reported at the beginning of November. Wildlife officials say that bears that are fed by humans can become a dangerous nuisance.

"We sent officers and biologist out to the area and found out it was true. As a result, we had to euthanize one of the bears. We did educate her and gave her several warnings and were out there a number of times in the past several months for the same issues," added Morse.

Morse said after Mussleman would not comply, she was given a notice to appear in court and ordered by the judge to stop feeding the bears.

"After the second appearance, the judge ordered our officer to maintain a watch on the property weekly. If she violated that portion of the probation she was to be picked up and brought in," said Morse.

Mussleman was arrested Wednesday after an officer found food at her home. Morse said Mussleman was resistant and a Highlands County Sheriff's Deputy was called in to assist with the arrest. The HCSO deputy said that Mussleman threatened to kill them.

Mussleman is now facing charges of violation of probation, resisting an officer with violence and battery on a officer. A judge ruled that Mussleman should not be allowed to bond out of jail and she will remain behind bars until her March 3 court appearance.

Morse said Friday, "A fed bear is a dead bear. You can not relocate a bear that's become a nuisance. No matter where you put them they're going to exhibit that behavior and the behavior will become worse over time to where it may be a threat to personal safety."

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said they’ve worked over the past six months to educate people in the area about intentionally and not intentionally feeding the bears.

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