The muskox killer

Paul Atkins/Facebook

For 22 years, Paul Atkins, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, taught school on the edge of the Bering Sea in the remote community of Kotzebue where the winters are long and cold and people live closer to Russia than Alaska’s urban core.

There above the Arctic Circle with the Russian village of Uelen only about 60 miles west across the Bering Sea and Anchorage more than five times as far away to the southeast, his son, Elijah, grew up.

Elijah graduated from Kotzebue Middle High School last year, and as the class valedictorian stood in front of the class to congratulate his classmates on overcoming a lot in the pandemic years prior.

“…At school at home, over the phone, on teams, and then back at school, masked up and behind shields,” he said. “But we did it, and even though it wasn’t ideal it made us stronger, letting us know that we can overcome anything and still be successful.”

“The pandemic humbled a handful of teachers, too,” Arctic Sounder reporter Emily Hostaedte wrote after that graduation. “Paul and Susie Atkins, parents of…Elijah, have taught in Kotzebue for 22 years and are retiring this year.

“‘As an old school teacher I learned as well, technology mostly,” wrote Paul. ‘I reflect back on when we first started our careers here, and it is amazing to me how far we’ve come. As a family of the Arctic, I will always be grateful to the NWABSD and what they provided to our students and us as teachers.”’

Flash ahead to 2022, and Paul is this guy now in the news:

A 56-year-old Oklahoma man, “a hunting guide and outdoors author,” fined $15,000 for poaching a muskox and 28 other Alaska big-game animals.

“The investigation, prosecution and conviction of Mr. Atkins is a warning to others who may not consider the seriousness of illegally exploiting an Alaskan subsistence harvesting opportunity,” Anchorage TV station KTUU news quoted Alaska Assistant Attorney General Ronald Dupuis boasting. “Wildlife is a vital resource of Alaska. Our office will pursue and prosecute those violating wildlife laws.

Black & white grays

This is what you get when the government writes the news and the media simply regurgitates and slightly embellishes it as fact.

Where KTUU got the idea Paul was a guide is unclear. The state press release around which its whole story was built doesn’t mention guiding, and there is no record that Paul ever held a state guide license.

What Paul did do was what almost every male among the 3,102 residents of Kotzebue does every year. He went hunting at every opportunity. His only real crime was that he was either a cheapskate or a dumbass.

A born and reared Oklahoman, whose heart apparently never really left Oklahoma, he was apparently too cheap to spend the money for non-resident hunting licenses when visiting his old home state.

He may well have saved thousands of dollars this way.

A nonresident hunting license in Oklahoma costs only $117 more than a resident license, but the southern state – like Alaska – tacks on all sorts of sizeable fees for hunting big game: $506 for a bear tag, $306 for a tag for elk or antelope, and $280 for a deer. 

Residents pay for big-game tags, too, but most tags go for $10 to $20, the exceptions being antelope and elk at $51 each and bears at $101, a fifth of the cost non-residents are required to pay.

If you figure the costs differences on those tags over 20 years, and assume the Atkins family was vacationing in Oklahoma over Christmas breaks from school in Kotzebue at a time when hunting seasons are still open in Oklahoma, Paul could have saved a fair bit of money on any Sooner state hunting adventures.

But in the process, he set himself up for a big fall.

Claiming to be a resident in more than one state in order to obtain resident hunting and fishing privileges in both (or maybe even more than two) is – as former Alaska Board of Fisheries member Roland Maw can testify – a big no-no.

No matter where Paul was spending most of his time for the 22 years he and Susie were living in Kotzebue and teaching school, he immediately voided his Alaska residency when he claimed to be an Oklahoman to get a resident hunting license in that state.

Why he did something so fundamentally stupid is hard to know. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Why the state of Alaska decided to put out a press release portraying him as a big, bad Outside hunter making a trip north to lay waste to the state’s wildlife is easier to understand.

There are significant resentments in Northwest Alaska, as in most of rural Alaska, against Outside hunters and even hunters from urban Alaska who are generally and uniformly perceived as rich and privileged.

Thus there is political hay to be made by state prosecutors portraying themselves as the good guys in their own little narrative about nabbing one of these people by sending out a press release headlined “Outdoor Writer, Pro Staffer Ordered to Pay $15,000 in fines, lose hunting license for three years for illegal harvest of Musk Ox.”

Paul did recently write a book about his years in Alaska, claims to have previously authored 100 hunting articles, and managed to get Stryker BowTech to sign him on as “Pro Staff.” From the looks of his Facebook page, it appears he was trying to swing similar deals with Cabela’s and Sitka Gear to get equipment free or at cut-rate prices, which is about all these “pro” arrangements are good for.

Mainly Paul appears to be a retired school teacher trying to set himself up with a second career as a writer and consultant.

His Facebook boasting about hunting from Africa to Alaska in an effort to do this might well have been enough to motivate someone to tip the state off to his claims of dual residency.

What followed, according to the state press release, was a “multi-month investigation (that) revealed that Atkins had harvested nine musk oxen on Alaska resident only Tier II subsistence permits,” and “harvested at least 29 different animals in Alaska with an Alaska resident hunting license” without ever mentioning the 22 falls, winters and springs the Atkinses spent in Kotzebue. 

Twenty-nine dead big game animals is a big number, but 1.3 three big-game animals per year is not. Federal “subsistence” hunting regulations for the Kotzebue area legally allow a resident to kill three black bears, two grizzly bears, a moose, a muskox, and sometimes a Dall sheep every year, plus up to five caribou per day.

There is likely a hunter or two or more in Kotzebue who has killed 29 big-game animals in a single year to feed an extended family and/or an extended family and friends.

It’s complicated

Residents of rural Alaska enjoy a federal “priority” on hunting priveleges in a state where hunting regulations are complicated. Though the state prosecuted Paul for being a non-resident, his residency under the federal subsistence law is less clear.

It defines a resident as “any person who has their primary, permanent
home for the previous 12 months within Alaska and whenever
absent from this primary, permanent home, has the intention of
returning to it. Factors demonstrating the location of a person’s
primary, permanent home may include, but are not limited to:
the address listed on an Alaska license to drive, hunt, fish, or engage in an activity regulated by a government entity; affidavit of person or persons who know the individual; voter registration; location of residences owned,
rented or leased; location of stored household goods; residence of spouse, minor children or dependents; tax documents; or whether the person claims residence in another location for any purpose.”

Someone teaching in Kotzebue during a school year that runs almost 10  months from August to May and maintaining a residence there would seem to meet most of those requirements, although Paul could run into trouble with the latter provision for obtaining resident hunting licenses in Oklahoma.

Still, it appears there has never been a federal case prosecuted in Alaska based on such claims, and such a case would no doubt open a big can of worms.

Some Alaska Natives who regularly “subsistence hunt” in the rural areas where they grew up now live in Anchorage where some no likely take advantage of property tax breaks offered senior citizens, disabled veterans, and widows or widowers of those who served in the military.

Such tax breaks would meet the disqualifying standard of claims to subsistence residency elsewhere even if those hunters maintained a residence in a rural area with the “intention of returning to it.”

The state made no mention of all these complicating factors or of the many winters the Atkinses spent in Kotzebue, although it would appear Nome District Court Magistrate Pamela Smith was aware of the situation.

After Paul offered a guilty plea to three misdemeanors – lying to get a resident license, lying to get a state subsistence permit and illegally transporting game – she was quoted telling him that “I appreciate you taking responsibility for this. You are an experienced hunter and understand the consequences. I doubt I will be seeing you here again.”

She then fined him $15,000, revoked his hunting privileges for three years, put him on probation for the same time, and told him the state would be keeping 20 “taxidermy items”  seized as evidence.

Such seized items are annually auctioned off, so the state could yet net a few thousand dollars more from Paul’s bust.

Not that everyone thinks this enough. Rod Arno, the public policy director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state’s largest organization of hunters and fishermen, called the fine way too small.

He doesn’t think it enough to discourage others, and believes various double standards in the treatment of Paul Atkins cannot be ignored.

“What if the guy lived in Wasilla?” Arno asked. “He would be incarcerated and had his guns, boots, plane, etc., all confiscated. Plus fined.”

The way Arno sees it, Paul got the rural resident exemption from strict enforcement of hunting law followed by some public humiliation due “white, privileged, Bush teachers” who break the law in a state anxious to show it isn’t letting “Outsiders” get away with anything.

Double, double-standards

Arno argued there should be some uniformity in the punishment doled out for those who break fish and game laws in Alaska no matter where they live or who they are, but the system just doesn’t work that way.

Maw, a friend to former Gov. Bill Walker and well connected to the state’s most powerful political lobby in the form of the commercial fishing business, went way beyond what Atkins did in terms of breaking Alaska residency laws and got off with little more than a slap on the wrist.

A guy who for years claimed to be a resident of Montana and of Alaska, Maw claimed Alaska as his sole residency when it came time time to claim Permanent Fund Dividend checks and take advantage of that state benefit.

And as a one-time professor at Lethbridge College in Alberta, Canada, he’d spent years and years before that off-and-on claiming to be an Alaska resident when he visited the state in the summers to commercial fish in Cook Inlet.

When his lying ways finally caught up with him, he cut a plea deal with the state that wiped out 12 felony charges of ripping off the PFD and most of the charges of lying to obtain various licenses.

He pled guilty to one count of  “unsworn falsification in the second degree,” a misdemeanor, and was ordered to pay z $500 fine and reimburse the states $9,582 for the illegally collected PFDs and to cover the difference in costs between resident and nonresident hunting and fishing licenses.

The total of $10,352 was only $3,107 more than the state of Montana fined Maw seven years earlier for lying about his residency there to illegally obtain “resident conservation/fish, deer, elk, migratory and/or upland bird licenses” for a span of seven years.

The biggest penalty Maw paid for his lying ways, in fact, might have come in the loss of a profitable relationship with the state of Alaska that ended after he was discovered to be a Montanan. State records show that Maw had been pocketing good money – $120,002 in 2013, $154,657 in 2014, and $164,090 in 2015 – to run the state “test boat” operation used to make in-season determinations on the size of sockeye returns to the Kenai and Kasilof rivers.

The contract was let in a competitive bidding process that provides a 5 percent preference for Alaska residents. No attempt was ever made to see if those contracts were legally obtained in light of the discovery Maw had been a resident of Montana at the time they were signed.

Maw got off even lighter than Paul Atkins and without the Department of Law publicly calling him out to make a display of how it cracks down on Montanans who come to Alaska to illegally fish as residents and while here steal from the Permanent Fund.

It all just goes to show life ain’t fair. But sometimes when government bureaucrats get involved in playing the media it is nicely orchestrated.







19 replies »

  1. It saddens me to think that so many come to my great state and simply want to take what they want from it, the laws be damned. When I moved outside I paid to get non-resident sport and commercial fishing licenses, I did not hunt because it was expensively prohibitive, I did not file for a PFD. When I moved back I didn’t get a resident sport fishing or hunting license until I had met the terms of residency, I did not file for a PFD until I met the terms of residency. There aren’t that many laws about Alaska residency and how it applies, open up the hunting or fishing regs and it’s spelled out in the first few pages, apply for a permit not only is it spelled out, but you need to check a few boxes and add some key dates, apply for a PFD the something applies.

    For an educator in the far reaches of Alaska to be ignorant of these laws strains the limits of credulity, although we have seen time and time again where educators are in desperate need of education. Getting away with abusing the system for years might seem like a good idea, but when you get caught especially when you’ve done it for decade upon decade it sure does tarnish your name and reputation.

    It’s a lot easier to follow the law than to think you are above it or can get away with it. If you don’t like the law, work to overturn it.

    • Steve o , i agree – work to overturn it .
      Steve o – im glad you are such a rule follower as noted in your writing. Im sure you have never done anything above the law such as driving above a speed limit which is arguably far more detrimental to society than anything paul did . Paul put no ones life in jeopardy ( except perhaps his own by breaking rules)
      Interestingly our highest court views unconstitutional law as no law at all . – shelby – seibold – Madison. Are all key words to help you look up cases that proclaim an unconstitutional law is void. ( yes I know thats risky concept for those wishing to be free of physical prison . Yet at least they live free while they can )
      Martin Luther king says in part – one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
      Interesting another great man Gahndi in part said -an unjust law is a species of violence . Arrest for its breach is more so .
      Court cases says unconstitutional law is no law at all .
      How easy is it to overturn unjust law ?
      Jesus died trying to overturn unjust laws .
      King died. Gahndi died.
      Were they successful? Some what. Is it reasonable to expect that level of effort or commitment by most people? Probably not . Therefore what is the common man to do when faced with unjust laws ? Probably to take those 3 great men’s advice and not follow unjust law .
      The alternative is to be a good german and follow all laws and end up with the fiasco of being tarnished forever after following Hitlers laws.
      Was Paul a conscientious objector? Unlikely. Was he a skin flint ? Probably. Was his punishment unjust? Yes it was because requiring paul to hold two hunting licenses to be allowed to do something that is inherently a human right ( subsistence) is unconstitutional. Therefore no law at all . Therefore an unjust punishment. Especially when its a life altering punishment.. great men have said injustice anywhere is injustice every where/ or similar.
      Am I saying paul shouldn’t pay his fair share regarding game management? No im not but thats a different question. Is paul morally obligated to follow unjust law ? Not according to great men . Should paul follow laws that guarantee animal populations survive for all to hunt? Forever? Yes 100%
      Yet i say those laws must be ethically in line with the constitution. Or our creators laws that humanity considers to be ethical.
      Was George, Thomas, adam , Franklin always law followers ? What if they had been? This wouldn’t be America would it ? What if king followed all the laws and rules? What if Gahndi did ? Where would that put us ?
      What if germans had refused to follow the rules or laws?
      History would have been different eh ?
      Im just saying that expecting all laws to be followed until you can overturn them is not functional in the real world.
      That said I certainly think Paul should have paid his share and not been a skin flint . Should paul have followed the rules regarding tropy destruction ? Probably? That said I truly think it’s important to think for ourselves and not just follow the law . Imo

      • DPR,

        Paul plead guilty, he was not or is not a conscientious objector. Paul is by no means comparable to any of the Founding Fathers, Ghandi, MLK, or Jesus…he’s a guy who tried to save a few bucks on license fees used to support the management of the very wildlife he hunted.

        This is in no way comparable to Nazi Germany.

        This is in no way comparable to the early American Colonies under British rule.

        It’s not clear which laws you think are unconstitutional, all game laws?

        In short and as the competion judge from Billy Madison said to Billy, “what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I’ve ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response was there anything that could even be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

      • Steve o – I think if you applied yourself you would understand the basic concepts i was trying to impart .
        If you cant , then no worries just try again another time.

      • DPR,

        I understand the concepts, hence why I pointed them out as being in no way comparable.

      • Steve o – the fact you said comparable was the concept shows you didn’t understand what was being discussed. No one was equating paul with anyone.
        You clearly don’t understand the concepts if you thought it was about comparison.
        Try again steve .
        My comment waa discussing the reason ability of being a rule follower who follows rules until they are overturned regardless of their constitutionality or their moral or ethical standing . If we all followed rules until overturned where would we be as a society? I just thought your idea foolish. That great men do not follow rules or laws unless the rules and laws are just .
        The constitution is in line with that . You apparently thought didn’t understand the points if you focused on comparisons. Or maybe you didn’t want to recognize the history I pointed out? Idk ? Anyway you brought up comparisons instead of the base concepts. Of course I think people should follow game laws ect . As long as they are in line with constitutional intent. Or they are morally or ethically correct.
        Do you ever speed steve ? Ever ? You implied in your comment that people should always follow laws until they are overturned. You implied that its cut and dried. You implied that you would never break the law .
        I find that interesting. Thats all .

      • Steve o – why not just say you don’t understand what’s being discussed? Did you You really need to resoet to a personal attack? We all have different opinions, i just don’t agree with you that a person should be expected to always follow laws regardless of their unjust nature.
        Your stance of following all laws until overturned was what led to slavery proceeding for thousands of years. To Germany persecution of Jews through laws . Your stance has brutalized untold numbers of people. Laws are important for a society to work well together but whats more important is for individuals to analyze if the laws are ethical and not follow the unethical ones . I would think you would agree with such a solid concept. Not sure why you refuse to adress the inherent ethical nature of that concept. Its what our country was founded on .

  2. Rule for some, not others. The state goes light on punishment of the natives; but if you are ‘white man’ when it comes to anything that touches the natives or resources, you will be hammered.

    • Abdull ,
      Why do you think justice goes light on natives? Do you have proof or are you just guessing? Alaska has a large native prison population. I would like to know what stats support your position.

  3. Imo he shouldn’t have been fined at all .
    Hunting to me is a creator given right akin to breathing drinking eating farming thinking speaking love and living.
    I remember a very experienced old man who said if he wasn’t allowed to hunt he would have nothing to live for . Gathering food for your family is a human right. It doesn’t need a license.. so any penalties based on licensing is a farce . Our constitution says righs and privileges granted in one state must be honored in all . Therefore at minimum if you were licensed in a state there should be no requirement for license in another. Besides the fact hunting is a human right and shouldn’t require a license whatsoever. Assuming the government had the rights to tske 3 years of pauls ability to feed his family and do what humans have done since dawn of time is ludicrous. Its clear violent act towards Paul. He was an Alaska resident regardless of claiming residence in another state . The other state might have a gripe against him but Alaska certainly does not . If Paul had been killing animals out of season or taking above the limits of our shared resource then maybe the state would have an ethical gripe. He wasn’t. He was feeding his family and had a history of being a positive influence on society. A family of teachers. Teachers are to be revered especially in a tough environment like kotz. He raised a well educated son . He partook In ancient traditions of hunting. Being violent towards him and his rights to feed himself and his family is beyond the pale under these circumstances.
    He shouldn’t have been a skinflint and cheated in his other state but he did nothing wrong in Alaska beyond paperwork infractions. If even that.. no government entity has the ethical right to require a license to breath even if oxygen is a shared resource. My guess is Paul had no lawyer or a bum one and the state threatened him with jail or similar extreme punishment and he took a guilty plea to a lesser charge. Imo it’s extremely unethical when a government coerces a defendant to take a plea bargain on something they may not even be guilty. Often the government will raise the charges in hopes a defendant will buckle and not fight. Lawyers often arrange plea agreements despite guilt just for reducing sentences. A very unethical government activity. A person is either guilty or not and shouldn’t have government threat of violence against their person/ threat of extreme penalties to get an unethical guilty plea.
    This man should have only had a slap on his wrist and faced judgment in his other state . Rod arno is wrong. Yes guides get hammered and hunted by law enforcement but that doesn’t mean private citizens should get unjust penalties.

  4. No mention as to whether or not Atkins received PFD’s those years he also claimed Oklahoma residency. As a OTZ teacher for 9-10 months a year it would seem he might have been tempted.
    I certainly agree with Arno that the total fin was inadequate to cover the 29 illegally taken animals. And did he also violate the Federal Lacy Act by shipping those trophies to/from Alaska and Outside taxidermists?

    • Good questions. I’d find it mindboggling if prosecutors DIDN’T check for PFD violations here. But I have to admit, it also wouldn’t surprise me all that much if they dropped that ball.

      Bigger question would seem to be this: Did this cause anyone to take a look at all rural teachers? A lot of them are from Outside. I’d expect it would be a big temptation to hang onto Outside bennies, like property tax breaks for residents of some cities in the Lower 48, while in AK.

      • He, his wife and their son applied for PFDs from 2020 back to 2016 (I didn’t check every year after that but he was on the 2006 and 2001 lists as well), but did not apply in 2021. He’s also on the voter roles in Kotz.
        The timeline is interesting, and the circumstances are as well. He and his wife retire in 2021, but the tip to the Troopers about him poaching Musk Ox came prior to that in March of 2020. Nowhere does anyone make the claim that he was illegally poaching in Oklahoma as a nonresident (although he was), the original complaint is that he was poaching Musk Ox. I agree with your suggestion that, until he retired at least, he was most certainly living in Kotz during the school year. But who is going to rat out a known longtime local to the fish cops and why, is the more interesting story to me. I’m pretty sure I know why…
        What I have been unable to find out is how many years he falsified his applications for Oklahoma hunting licenses. That Troopers claim he poached 9 Musk Ox and 29 animals in total as a nonresident and that ‘In coordination with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Atkins’s primary residency was determined to be in Oklahoma’ I’m going to guess that he falsified hunting licenses in Oklahoma since the day he moved to Alaska in 1999. I’ve been up here a few years and I’ve met more than a few people who feel that, because they have ‘put in the time’ they are entitled to things. Things like resident hunting licenses up here as well as ‘back home.’ Things like PFDs when they’ve spent every day that school was out down in the Lower 48 on their farm in Oklahoma. If the Troopers determined he was a resident of Oklahoma, and the Magistrate agreed with that determination, I’d be very curious as to how far along the PFD folks are in their investigation. You think he saved some money on his deer tags ‘back home’ in Oklahoma? 20 years of PFD fraud for three people is a hell of a lot of money. You think that ‘His only real crime was that he was either a cheapskate or a dumbass.’? I’d say 20 years of poaching in both Alaska and Oklahoma are bigger crimes than just being the dumbass that he is. So is multiple violations of the Lacy act to send those skulls ‘back home.’ So is 20 years of PFD fraud. I sincerely hope that his family does not get caught up in that part.
        As for his sentence- it’s an absolute disgrace and just goes to show the blatantly preferential treatment that those who ‘put in the time’ always get. Look back through Mrs. Smith’s judgements and you can tell who has ‘put in the time’ and who hasn’t. She’s a corrupt inept poltroon.

        As for the why question above re: ratting out a longtime local- judging by this interview from May of 2021, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that his own big mouth gave lots of people ample opportunity to dime him out and his own big mouth gave ample reason to do so as well, and it’s going to happen again…

  5. Never understood why unethical sportsmen try to double dip on hunting and fishing licenses. In the last 50 years, all lower 48 tags have cost me probably $10,000 to $15,000. That averages around $200 to $300 a year. In addition to being raised to do the right thing, not having to feel uncomfortable while enjoying the outdoors makes paying required fees worthwhile.

    IMHO people who can afford to hunt the more expensive game animals can also afford the higher tag fees.

  6. This paragraph should say dual not duel:
    His Facebook boasting about hunting from Africa to Alaska in an effort to do this might well have been enough to motivate someone to tip the state off to his claims of duel residency

  7. I think the judges sentence sounds just, but Arno is also correct. The judge might well have had kids in Atkin’s classroom. A Wasilla violator would have been mincemeat. Nobody likes Wasillian Valley Trash. I’d be really interested in how Atkins accessed the musk oxen. If it was by snowmobile, the state would blow it off, but if he used an airplane? And it wasn’t seized? That would be a story……….

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