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Compass: Oil tax reform helps all Alaskans - even wood bison

On 165 acres next to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC), a herd of wood bison has taken up temporary residence before they return to their homeland next year after being extinct for more than 100 years.

The new pasture is a prime example of how nonprofits use contributions and volunteers to create lasting legacies for our great state.

The Chugach National Forest owns the pasture -- and because bison shouldn't roam free along the Seward Highway, Wells Fargo contributed a major grant for the fencing, ConocoPhillips donated the pipe for the fence posts and Carlyle Transportation Systems delivered the pipe from the North Slope. Volunteers helped install the fence.

Now the bison wander this large enclosure, free from most human interaction, as they prepare for the last stage of the most significant Alaska conservation initiative of this century. Next April, the herd will fly to Shageluk where they will be temporarily held until they can be released into the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge. The largest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, wood bison populated Innoko and the other grasslands of Interior Alaska for 10,000 years before they disappeared in the early 1900s. Soon they'll be back.

The bison belong to the state of Alaska which has invested 20 years in the reintroduction program -- just like it has invested in AWCC.

Nonprofits like AWCC rely heavily on contributions for both operations and capital projects. We are fortunate to have so many business partners but our most significant capital contributor to date has been the state of Alaska. And like the state's operating budget, Alaska's capital budget depends on oil revenues.

A recently released study by the McDowell Group found that oil revenues accounted for almost two-thirds of the state's capital budget and 90 percent of the state's general funds. That's why it's so important to stem the North Slope production decline and keep our oil industry healthy.

Government funding and the oil industry keep most of Alaska's nonprofits afloat. According to a Foraker Group study, 60 percent of all nonprofit revenues come from government, compared to 29 percent in the rest of the nation.

Oil industry funding is the second largest source of nonprofit funding, with the major North Slope producers contributing the most. BP Alaska helps support 700 community organizations and has handed out generous scholarships to more than 700 high school graduates since 1985. It also assists 230 youth teams through its Fabric of America program, which gives each employee $300 to donate to a nonprofit of their choice.

ConocoPhillips contributes to 344 organizations and its employees contributed an incredible 7,188 volunteer hours last year.

Even though its Alaska staff is small when compared to the other producers, ExxonMobil employees gave $50,000 to United Way in 2013. The company contributed more than a quarter million to higher education and another $250,000 to the Iditarod education program.

These levels of nonprofit support can only happen when North Slope production levels are strong enough to support the state. Under our old tax policy called ACES, North Slope production has fallen almost 31 percent while production is up everywhere else in the nation. Under ACES, Alaska missed out on the oil boom brought about by high oil prices because investment levels remained flat while they soared in every other oil state.

When ACES passed in 2007, Alaska was the number two oil producer in the nation. Now we're number four -- and could become number five if Oklahoma overtakes us.

A state that's 90 percent dependent on oil revenues just cannot afford to lose so much production and continue to prosper.

At AWCC, we invest in our animals and our facilities. Our strength is built on long-term relationships. That's what oil tax reform does. It asks us to give up a little right now to guarantee good jobs, a booming economy and a prosperous future.

It is very important that Alaskans make the right decision on Ballot Measure One. A healthy oil industry is critical to jobs, our economic future -- and nonprofits like AWCC.

Mike Miller is the founder and executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage.



By MIKE MILLER