A recently-retired Kotzebue teacher and author of a book on hunting pleaded guilty to unlawful actions around a hard-to-come-by permitted musk ox hunt in the Northwest Arctic Borough.
According to the state’s Department of Law, 56-year-old Paul Atkins agreed to pay $15,000 in fines and obey a three-year revocation of his Alaska hunting license after prosecutors charged him with several counts that included keeping trophies from a subsistence harvest and claiming residency status in both Alaska and Oklahoma simultaneously.
“This is not an insignificant case,” said Assistant Attorney General Ronald Dupuis with the Office of Special Prosecutions during sentencing.
Musk oxen were wiped out in Alaska with the introduction of rifles. Reintroduced from foreign stocks in the early part of the 20th century, decades of state resources have gone into reviving herds stable enough to allow for subsistence hunts in Western Alaska.
Governed by the Alaska Department and Fish Game, musk ox hunts in Western Alaska are rare and highly sought after: Last year in the large game management unit extending west from the Kobuk River drainage all the way to the hub town of Kotzebue, 46 residents put in for just three permits. Under what’s known as the Tier II system, subsistence hunters apply for a permit, which is scored based on a number of criteria like local fuel and food costs, as well as the number of years a family has harvested meat from a given stock and how many days of a year are spent hunting and fishing.
According to the Office of Special Prosecutions, the case began when Alaska Wildlife Troopers got an anonymous complaint in March of 2020 that Atkins had illegally taken a musk ox.
At sentencing, Dupuis argued that Atkins had abused wildlife rules, double-dipping by claiming residency status in two states. More egregiously, prosecutors said, were multiple instances of not adequately removing the horn, a mandatory step intended to eliminate some of the trophy values from animals intended to be taken for subsistence purposes like food and the animals’ soft, fibrous qiviut hides.
The state originally filed 12 charges against Atkins for violations during various hunts going back to 2016. He ultimately pleaded guilty to three of those charges, turning over 20 hunting trophies in the process. According to the Department of Law spokesperson Patty Sullivan, since 2005, Atkins had harvested a total of nine musk oxen. Eight of them were taxidermied, and forfeited to the state as part of the agreement. Statute of limitations rules limited how far back prosecutors could bring charges, Sullivan said.
“The investigation, prosecution and sentencing of Mr. Atkins sends a warning to others who may not consider the severity of illegally taking an Alaskan’s opportunity for a subsistence harvest,” Dupuis said.
“I accept it,” Atkins said at his sentencing hearing. “I shouldn’t of did it.”
Atkins spent 22 years as a teacher in the Northwest Arctic Borough, retiring in 2021 after his son graduated valedictorian of his high school class, according to the Arctic Sounder; he then moved to Oklahoma, where he’d lived previously. An accomplished and passionate bow-hunter, Atkins has authored numerous articles about hunting big game in Alaska, the Lower 48 and overseas, and published a book in 2021 called “Atkins’ Alaska: True Tales of Hunting, Fishing and Surviving in the Far North.”
Atkins did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment, nor did his Anchorage-based defense attorney return a message left with his office.
Under the conditions of the plea agreement Atkins, did not forfeit equipment or property used in the hunt.
It was not his only infraction of Alaska wildlife rules. In 2011, Atkins pleaded guilty to a non-criminal violation involving a female bear with cubs on Kodiak, for which he paid the state $1,300 in restitution, according to court records. In 2012 he pleaded no contest to a minor offense stemming from a January musk ox hunt in the Northwest Arctic.