Originally founded with a modest herd of Plains Bison and Rocky Mountain Elk as Big Game Alaska, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) has transformed over the last 20 years gaining 501(C) 3 nonprofit status in 2004, and today is Southcentral Alaska’s #1 visitor attraction.
Dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, education and quality animal care, AWCC takes in orphaned and injured animals and provides them care and spacious enclosures. Animals that cannot be released back into the wild are given a permanent home at the Center.
Founded by Mike Miller, The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center opened in 1993 as the for-profit Big Game Alaska. Located in Portage Alaska, AWCC has about 200 acres for its animals to live in natural habitats. AWCC has a partnership with the USFS and leases about 110 acres that are dedicated specifically to the wood bison.
In 1999, the center became a 501(c)3 non-profit, “Big Game Alaska, Inc. dba the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC),” with Mike Miller serving as the center’s Executive Director. The name was officially changed to Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Inc. in 2007.
Animals at the center include a wolverine, lynx, brown bears, porcupines, wood bison, black bears, a grizzly bear, fox, coyotes, wolves, moose, elk, Sitka black-tail deer, musk ox, caribou, reindeer, bald eagle and great horned owl. Most of the animals are cared for in large natural habitats, including enclosures designed for the display of multiple species. For instance, three brown bears live in an 8.5-acre habitat of rolling brushland and conifers, and two black bears are housed in a 5.7-acre enclosure with a stream.
Starting in 2003, the center has taken part in a program to reintroduce the wood bison back into Alaska after a 100-year absence. The wood bison is the largest land mammal in North America and is a keystone grazing herbivore from the region. This project was a joint effort with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. About 130 wood bison were released back into western Alaska in 2015. The herd is doing well and has increased their numbers of the first two years of being in the wild.
In 2008, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center embarked on plans to develop an Alaskan bear conservation science and education facility and interpretive center. The B.E.A.R.S. (Bear Education Awareness Research Sanctuary) exhibit, is a 30-acre expansion for the center’s brown and black bear residents. In addition, an interpretive educational center and conservation research facility dedicated to advancing the public’s awareness and appreciation for Alaska’s.
The wood bison reintroduction and the bears’ interpretive area align with the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, research, education and quality animal care. AWCC’s education department is ever developing and evolving to include STEM curriculum, providing education to visitors and students every year through field trips, interpretive signage, animal presentations and more. In 2017, over 2,000 students enjoyed a field trip to visit the center, went on a guided tour and were introduced to animals that call AWCC home. Spreadheading the education department for over 10 years was Kelly Miller, the Director of Education or the “education queen”.