A 77-year-old Laytonville woman who fed and nurtured bears at her remote mountain cabin for more than 25 years has pleaded guilty to feeding big-game animals.
Lynne Gravier, known locally as "Bear Woman," won't spend time in jail under a plea agreement that will wipe clean her misdemeanor criminal record if she kicks her bruin-feeding habit. Meanwhile, Fish and Game officials are free to drop by to ensure she's complying with the terms of the agreement.
"It's the best I could do," Gravier said Wednesday. "I just have to lay low and keep my mouth shut."
She said she's focusing her nurturing impulses on her 14 cats, three dogs and the doves, blue jays and quails that visit her new home outside of Laytonville.
Gravier's mountain cabin was condemned and she was forced to leave after state and county officials last year found it was filled with filth and evidence that bears had been inside.
After she moved, the animals further ransacked the cabin, apparently in search of the grain, cookies and peanut butter sandwiches she had been doling out for decades. Gravier admitted she fed the bears, sometimes by hand. She called them her babies and gave them names.
When state Fish and Game officials raided her 40-acre ranch in September, they found 1,000 pounds of corn and four bears, two of them on the front porch.
Fish and Game officials had been trying to stop Gravier from feeding the bears for more than six years. Some of Gravier's neighbors had begun complaining that the bears she attracted were damaging their property. A higher than average number of bears in the area were killed in recent years by professional trappers because they caused problems, Fish and Game officials said.
Gravier said she believed she had to continue feeding the bears so they wouldn't be killed and also to fatten them up for the winter, elements that would have been part of her defense had the case gone to trial.
She admitted last year that she would be unable to stop feeding her beloved bears if she didn't move away.
If she resumes the practice, Gravier could be brought back to court and sentenced to up to six months in jail, said Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Tim Stoen.
But jail isn't in the cards, even if Gravier breaks her promise, Stoen said.
"She's a nice lady. She just got obsessed with feeding bears," he said.
Gravier had been scheduled to go to trial Monday, but prosecution and defense lawyers struck a deal that was spurred in part by a shortage of potential jurors available at the courthouse.
Her attorney, Geordie Duckler, had planned to use what he called the "choice of evils" defense, which he described as a common strategy intended to protect people who commit a crime in an attempt to prevent a larger harm, he said. Gravier believed if she stopped feeding the bears, they would starve or be killed while trying to find food at another person's home.
Gravier is not alone in her habits or beliefs. Duckler, an animal law specialist, said he has similar clients in three other states.
All are women over the age of 60, he said. One is trying to get arrested but game officials are ignoring her. "She wants to challenge the law," Duckler said.