Local News

Woman's arrest for bear feeding makes national headlines

SEBRING - National and international media outlets have pounced on the story of an 81-year-old Sebring woman accused of illegally feeding bears.

Mary H. Musselman, who was arrested late last year after being accused of the same offense, was arrested again recently and charged with violation of probation and threatening to kill an officer, according to a report.

Musselman remains in Highlands County on no bail. Her arraignment is set for March 3 in the Tenth Circuit Court of Florida in Judge William Sites' court.

Meanwhile, there appears to be some community support building for her.

A Facebook page started, titled "Justice for Mary Muesselman," was started by supporters.

The administrator could not be reached for comment, but he Facebook page states "no one person will be running this."

The page was started by a Good Samaritan, but "they are going to rely on anyone and everyone for updates," the page states.

Community response to her situation also remains divided.

Responding to a Highlands Today request for comments, Carol Ryan said: "I think it is pretty sad when an 81-year-old women cannot have corn for the squirrels and bird seed for the birds . With all the drugs and robberies that take place in Sebring and the surrounding areas. Should let the lady enjoy them."

Lorie Smith Morris said she felt differently before she looked up the state law.

"She was a beloved teacher of mine ... how could I not stand in support of her?," Smith asked.

That was her stance before she "educated" herself on the issue, which showed the law is clear. Feeding "less nefarious" wildlife, like birds, deer and squirrels, attracts bears to your yard, she said.

"You have been asked to cease and desist all forms of feeding any animals until the bear problem is under control, you may be arrested for feeding the bears," she said. "People are losing that understanding when trying to figure out how Mrs. Musselman was 'unjustly' arrested for putting out bird feed. And, yes, bears are highly attracted to birdseed, corn and the likes."

Kim Powers said, "She [Musselman] was informed of the dangers and decided her love for feeding the bears was greater then her love/concern for the safety of children in her surrounding neighborhood.

"So stop using her age as an excuse for breaking the law. With all that is going on in our world it is a bit ridiculous that this story has gone national."

The retired teacher's arrest has been reported by national and international news outlets including CNN, the New York Daily News, the Daily Mail (UK) and NBC News.com.

Commenting on the Daily Mail story, Jane of the USA said, "People advocating her release need to think of the danger she is putting others in. These bears are going to start breaking into houses looking for food. How would you like to wake up with a hungry bear in your home? What's going to happen next? The bear destroyed and an innocent person mauled?"

Margaret of Portland commented: "Her 'kind' behavior is killing the bears and putting humans in danger. The authorities are right to arrest and charge her. If she's found guilty she should be given a suspended sentence with the condition that if she is caught feeding the bears (they can put up cameras) then she's going to prison."

Musselman was arrested on a violation of probation charge after an Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 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 and birdseed and whole corn on the ground."

Under Florida law its a misdemeanor to feed bears, Fish and Wildlife Commission spokesman Gary Morse said. When fed by humans, bears lose their fear of humans and will be more prone to search for food in areas where humans live.