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Are the mountain lions around here taking the laws into their own paws?

Or was it just a coincidence that the man whom three cougars treed this week was the same man who had been looting ancient American Indian sites on National Park Service land in Garfield County?Whatever the case, Shane Coleman is just glad to be alive.

And he promises that his pothunting days are over.

Coleman, 31, recently paid a $3,000 fine to the National Park Service for illegal pothunting in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

"I was definitely in the wrong," Coleman said in an interview Tuesday.

The case against Coleman first began in April 1990, when park rangers discovered that someone had looted artifacts in the Seldom Seen Alcove site, located in a tributary to the Escalante River.

Among the items taken was a ceramic vessel that had been photographed by a Northern Arizona University archaeologist in 1987.

Park officials used the photograph of the pot in a "reward poster" that offered $5,000 for information about the looting.

In June 1992, rangers got the tip they needed from a confidential informant.

But it wasn't until February 1994 that they acted on the tip by going to Coleman's parents' home in Escalante. During that visit, rangers seized the jug, which was on display in the home.

In March 1994, Coleman said, rangers coaxed a confession from him after confronting him at the Cedar City police station with blown-up photographs of the vessel in its original state in the alcove.

Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Park Service tried to to prosecute Coleman criminally but couldn't because of a statute-of-limitations question. So it opted for a "civil penalty assessment" of nearly $45,000.

Coleman said he was able to get the penalty initially reduced to $20,000 by agreeing to return a rare Anasazi backpack made from reeds and juniper branches. He was later able to reduce the fine to $3,000 by agreeing to return other artifacts that he had stolen from other sites on public lands.

Among those items were moccasins, sandals, wooden shovels, pottery, grinding tools and arrowheads.

As part of the settlement, Coleman also has participated in field trips to the Seldom Seen site and other sites that he had disturbed and was given a full "formal debriefing" about those sites in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The debriefing was videotaped and will be used to train federal natural-resource investigators around the country, said Tomi Lee, Glen Canyon's chief ranger.

Coleman, who operates and maintains a hydroelectric unit near Boulder, was in the news earlier this week when he was chased up a tree by three Cougars. He was rescued only after radioing for help.

A Park Service investigator said civil prosecutions - such as the one in Coleman's case - are rare but are becoming more common because they allow the NPS to get more cooperation from a suspect while allowing the suspect to avoid a federal criminal record.