During my time in high school at the age of 16, I was a member of the Future Farmers of America. One of my projects was to raise a dairy bull. The animal was a cute little thing and I took great pride in building a pen with my father's help. Feed and water was a daily activity.
One day I thought it would be fun to play a little game with the small calf. Taking a large towel out of the bathroom I held it in front of me and taught the little calf to charge the towel as I moved away from behind the cloth. Now I realize all of you ranchers here in Highlands County can't believe what you just read...and you are correct! Once the calf was grown into a larger animal the fun was no longer for me. The numerous times I was knocked off of my feet or penned against his "home," the shed, could no longer be counted. He was a trained attack animal.
Ms. Musselmen, 81, has been arrested once again according to the local news. Her first arrest was for "feeding the bears." Her last arrest was for "feeding the birds." I assume the "birds" were not sparrows, but sand hill cranes. Although we do not want bears to come to us looking for food, crashing into our homes, a question comes to mind about the legality of being arrested.
If I leave food out in my trash and a bear eats it, should I be arrested for feeding the bears? Of course the intent was not the same, but the bears did get fed, didn't they? Their behavior might still be the same to find more food from the same source. As it was with my "bull-fighting calf," the intent was not criminal to develop an animal who would "attack." Perhaps a heavy monetary fine for feeding animals on the "do not feed list" would serve the purpose. To be placed behind bars with those who have committed serious crimes seems a little over-the-top for an 81-year-old woman who simply saw no harm in feeding the animals who walked through her back yard.
I realize the arrest of Mrs. Mussleman is a controversial topic, but there are real safety issues involved. Early in my career I worked for the National Park Service and managed youth programs where high school age and young adults were camped out in the back country doing rehab projects. They were in "bear country." I spent a great deal of time learning about bears from the wildlife biologists and NPS veterans. We need to be safe in bear country.
Bottom line is that once a bear gets used to being fed, it is over for the bear. You cannot "retrain" the bear to give up the easy meal and seeking the source of the easy food. I saw many problem bears trapped and relocated as far as 75 miles away, only to return a few days later to the food source. The concern about small children and pets in the area of bears that are used to coming into human activity is real and not to be discounted.
It is true, "A fed bear is a dead bear." There are ways to feed birds and such away from bear access. Please take the emotions out of the issue and deal with the facts about bear behavior. In a bear confrontation, many times there are no second chances.
John H. Rousch