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Alligator Point man fined for luring bear

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

A 65-year-old Alligator Point man has paid a $100 fine for feeding wildlife after a bear, attracted by corn spread in his backyard, was killed last month by law enforcement officers after it broke into the man’s house.

James Steven Saunderson paid the civil penalty August 6, and had adjudication withheld, eliminating the need for a scheduled Sept. 3 appearance before County Judge J. Gordon Shuler.

In documenting the case, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Investigator James Bryant wrote in a report he completed following the incident early Friday morning, July 17, that Saunderson had been warned in the past about feeding bears.

“Records for service showed that FWC has responded to this residence in the past in reference to bears and that Saunderson was issued a letter of noncompliance for having attractants on his property that was bringing bears in,” wrote Bryant. “Saunderson stated that he was not feeding bears but feeds squirrels on his property instead. (He) was instructed to not keep attractants on his property for bears to feed on.”

In his photographs of the blood trail and damage to the residence, Bryant included one that showed kernels of corn strewn in the yard.

Saunderson’s neighbor told Bryant that in addition to throwing corn out his back door, Saunderson had left cat food two feet from his back door and has nailed peanut butter to a large oak tree five feet from the door.

“Most important,” wrote the neighbor in his statement, a week after the incident. ”(Saunderson) refuses to shut and latch his door, which does not latch, and another bear will come into his house with his behavior in this matter.”

Bryant said he arrived at the house about five hours after the 4:39 a.m. break-in by the bear.

Franklin County Deputy John Nunez had responded to the 9-1-1 call from Saunderson in which he said a bear was “tearing his house up.”

Saunderson was able to flee the house, but his 95-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia, had remained in her room, when Nunez arrived and saw a black bear pawing at the window.

“I observed the elderly female in the living room within 10 to 12 feet of the bear with no real barrier between the two,” he wrote.

Nunez discharged a single 9mm round through the bay window, hitting the bear in the head and neck area.

Blood and bear skat was found in the bath tub after the wounded bear entered the bathroom.

The deputy then pursued the wounded animal, and watched as it came within six to eight feet of the woman, as it tried to enter the living room. Nunez fired three more 9mm rounds, and escorted the woman, who not injured, from the house. FWC Officer Tristan Hartzog soon arrived and shot the bear, which had entered the bedroom, several more times.

Bryant said when he arrived, he was told there were two bear cubs still in the area, and McAlpens Trapping Service went to work trying to trap the cubs.

Bryant said it was determined the bear tried to rummage through the home’s refrigerator after it made entrance.

McAlpen's removed the dead bear from the residence but the cubs were unable to be located and trapped, Bryant wrote.

The bear lies dead in the corner of a bedroom, after being shot by law enforcement officers

The law Saunderson violated specifies it is unlawful to “feed wildlife or freshwater fish with food or garbage.”

If those cited refuse to accept the citation, or fail to pay the civil penalty or appear in county court as required, they can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor, which also applies to any second violations.

A third violation can lead to a first-degree misdemeanor, with a fourth or subsequent violation leading to a third-degree felony charge.

Claw marks can be seen on the trash can.