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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Sebring woman accused of illegally feeding bears

SEBRING — An 81-year-old Sebring woman arrested late last year after being accused of illegally feeding bears, was again arrested this week and accused of violation of probation, besides threatening to kill an officer, according to a report.

Mary H. Musselman, 5240 Kenilworth Blvd., Sebring, was arrested by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and also charged with resisting an officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.

Musselman was placed on probation Jan. 24 for two counts of feeding black bears, according to a probable cause affidavit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Originally, she had been placed on diversion, meaning that if she didn’t violate the law for a certain period of time, her charges would have been removed the record.

But the affidavit said she violated the diversion agreement and was placed on probation.

Musselman was arrested on the violation of probation charge after an FWCC officer saw outside Musselman’s house “numerous bowls and trays with birdseed and corn, four hanging birdfeeders with birdseed in them, a wooden plank and a whole corn with and birdseed and whole corn on the ground.”

As part of her probation, Musselman had been ordered not to put out food for animals for a year, the affidavit said.

Gary Morse, spokesman for the commission, said officers had been dealing with Musselman since November 2012 after getting a report that she fed bears. As a result, one of the bears was euthanized.

Under Florida law its a misdemeanor to feed bears, Morse said.

“It’s pretty well known what the consequences are of feeding bears,” Morse said. The bear will lose its fear of humans and will become more apt to search for food in areas where humans live, he said.

Once a bear has been fed and lost its fear of humans, Morse said, there’s little choice but to trap and euthanize the animal.

“You can’t relocate them because they become problems somewhere else,” he said.

Most of the problems between bears and humans in Florida come about because someone is intentionally — such as by leaving out food for other animals or leaving garbage cans unsecured — or unintentionally feeding the bears, Morse said. It’s also illegal to feed alligators, raccoons, pelicans and sandhill cranes, he said.

The issues regarding Musselman began in early November when the agency received a report about her feeding bears, Morse said. An FWCC officer visited Musselman and learned that she had been feeding one or more bears for several months, he said.

Musselman was given a warning, told that feeding bears is illegal and educated about the problems associated with that, he said.

On, Nov. 12, the bear she was feeding as of Nov. 8 was euthanized because it was deemed to be causing a problem, he said.

But despite several visits and warnings, he said, Musselman continued to feed bears.

Eventually, she got a notice to appear in court on the charge of feeding bears, Morse said.

After she was placed on probation, a judge ordered that FWCC officers check weekly on whether she was feeding animals.

When they found that she was, a judge ordered her arrested and officers went to her residence on Jan. 29, the affidavit said.

Musselman ordered the officers off her property, the report said, adding that when FWCC officers assisted by Highlands County deputies tried to arrest her, she lunged at them and kicked them, the affidavit said.

A deputy told the FWCC officer that Musselman said when she’s released if the FWCC officer comes on her property Musselman will kill her, the report said.

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