A Tucson animal activist was sentenced to eight months in federal prison Monday for interfering with U.S. Forest Service agents who were trying to capture mountain lions in Sabino Canyon two years ago.

Rodney Coronado will also have to spend three years on probation upon his release, pay $100 in restitution and stay away from activists involved in such groups as the Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front and Earth First.

U.S. District Judge David Bury told Coronado he wanted to send a message that if you use "force and violence in civil disobedience you are going to be punished for it; it's anarchy."

Coronado, 39, Matthew Crozier, 33, and Esquire magazine writer-at-large John Richardson were arrested in the spring of 2004 after authorities accused them of interfering with the mountain lion hunt.

Federal officials closed Sabino Canyon that spring because they were alarmed at a growing number of encounters between mountain lions and humans.

Agents with the U.S. Forest Service organized a hunt and initially planned to shoot the cats, but decided after a public outcry to trap and move them instead.

Coronado and Crozier were accused of digging up a trap and laying false scents to distract hunting dogs. They were later indicted on misdemeanor charges of interfering with a forest officer and depredation of government property, and a felony charge of conspiracy to impede or injure an officer of the United States.

The pair were convicted in December and were facing up to six years in prison Monday.

In sentencing Coronado, Bury said he took into consideration the man's criminal history. Coronado has spent time in prison for setting fire to a mink researcher's offices at Michigan State University.

He has also claimed responsibility for sinking two whaling boats and damaging a processing plant in Iceland in 1986. During an appearance on "60 Minutes," Coronado defended those who use tools such as arson to fight urban sprawl and animal abuse.

Coronado told the judge he was ready to accept full responsibility for his actions, but said they were meant as "nothing more than an act of civil disobedience, a protest."

They were committed "out of love and compassion for those mountain lions that I love," Coronado said.

Crozier said there is no danger of his going back to a "lifestyle of civil disobedience." He said he simply wants to have a normal life, one that includes his pregnant bride and a newly started business.

Bury opted to put Crozier, a Sedona resident, on three years' probation, saying he was impressed with what Crozier has done since his arrest.

In addition, Bury said he thought Coronado was the "impetus" for the event and Crozier was simply a follower.

Still, Bury said he wanted to mete out some punishment to remind Crozier that what he did went beyond civil disobedience. He ordered Crozier to pay a $1,000 fine and complete 100 hours of community service.

The judge also ordered Crozier to stay away from any environmental and animal rights activists who advocate violence for their cause.

The judge told Crozier, a recovering alcoholic, that if his wife wasn't enough reason to abide by the terms of his probation, he (the judge) ought to be.

If he drinks or violates his probation in any way, Bury said, he won't hesitate to send Crozier to prison.

Richardson, 51, pleaded guilty to one count of interfering with a forest officer in June and was sentenced to one day in jail.

● Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com.