Alaska’s top sporting event is the 1,000 mile Iditarod sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome and this year a woman whose passion is to protect Bristol Bay wild salmon is competing in the grueling long-distance event.
Monica Zappa, 30, is dedicating her first Iditarod race toward raising public awareness about the proposed Pebble mine located in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.
You might be wondering how salmon and dog mushing mix.
“Salmon are a key part of the Alaska lifestyle whether you eat them, catch them or feed them to your dogs. Salmon are what fuel my dog team and it’s what will take us, hopefully, all the way to Nome. I’m so inspired by the people of Bristol Bay who are fighting so diligently to protect their salmon, culture and fishing jobs. And I’m honored to dedicate my first Iditarod race to protecting Bristol Bay salmon,” said Zappa.
She estimates that it will take about 2,000 pounds of food to get her team across the finish line. About one-third of what she feeds her dogs is wild salmon.
Zappa is a native of Wisconsin and the daughter of a mushing family. With a master’s degree in geography and one year completed in a PhD program, Zappa ditched school work and moved to Alaska in 2010, chasing her dream of running sled dogs competitively. After working as a dog handler, she met Iditarod veteran Tim Osmar and joined his kennel in Caribou Hills on the Kenai Peninsula. The two are now life partners as well as a dog mushing duo. They commercial fish in Cook Inlet together and have raced their dogs in the upper Midwest and Canada with the theme of “Mushing to Save Bristol Bay.”
“My concern for Bristol Bay salmon runs deep. I decided I wanted to do something to help bring awareness to this important issue. Tim and I have been mushing around the country, armed with stickers, flags and information sheets to help educate folks about the risk Pebble poses for Alaska’s salmon and fishing and seafood processing jobs. I want to inspire Alaskans and Americans across the country to do what they can to help protect Bristol Bay,” Zappa said.
Trout Unlimited has supported Zappa’s efforts and plans to continue helping her spread the word. Earlier this week, Zappa held a media event in Anchorage to let the world know about what’s inspiring her Iditarod run.
The Iditarod begins in Anchorage with a ceremonial start this Saturday. The race officially restarts on Sunday in Willow, about an hour and a half north of Alaska’s largest city. People from around the world travel to Alaska to view the race and millions more track it online. The top finishers generally complete the race in about nine days. Others take up to two or two and a half weeks.
You don’t have to run the Iditarod to help protect Bristol Bay though. Here are two easy ways you can help:
Watch and share a video: it's part of what is inspiring Monica Zappa on her journey to Nome.