Sled dog racing is Alaska's state sport, and Gov. Sean Parnell has officially endorsed Alaska as a "right to mush" state.
Parnell last week signed a legislative resolution "recognizing, honoring, supporting, and encouraging support for dog mushing and dog mushers" in Alaska.
Nome residents Diana Haecker and Nils Hahn drafted House Concurrent Resolution 24 to safeguard the sport and its human and canine participants throughout the state.
Explaining the cultural significance of mushing in Alaska, Haecker said, "It has its place in history, its place in the present, and I think more important certainly its place in the future, and we felt it needed to be preserved."
Haecker and Hahn run their own kennel and modeled the resolution off the nation's "right to farm" statutes, which protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits complaining of farming-related activities like noise and smell.
Alaska's "right to mush" resolution is not statutory but rather signifies the Legislature's support of mushing and its significance to the culture and people of Alaska.
"It's more of a symbolic resolution," Haecker explained, "but I think it also speaks that every legislator in the state has agreed that mushing is worth preserving and that it is an acceptable activity in the state."
The pair created the resolution after mushers across the state began reporting harassment like obstructed trails, traps set on trails and lawsuits threatening kennel operations.
The resolution received support from the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Willow Area Community Organization. Four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey and 15-time Iditarod finisher Mike Williams Sr. rallied behind its passage. Nome Kennel Club President Chrystie Salesky signed a resolution of support.
"It gives backing to us," Salesky said, speaking on behalf of the Nome Kennel Club, "reassuring us from the state that this is something that they want to see continued and not cease to exist."
Salesky points out many mushers engage in the sport recreationally rather than competitively, though some still use teams to run trap lines and haul wood. Salesky said the resolution goes beyond protecting a sport to sustaining a lifestyle.
"Even though we have all these races going on," Salesky explained, "there's a lot of people in smaller communities — Nome, too — where we're just recreational mushers, but it's still our way of life. And it's just great to have something in effect from the state that supports our way of life so mushing can still continue to thrive into the future."
Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, carried the resolution through the House.
Addressing the Legislature during a floor speech in March, Foster said in support of the resolution, "It's good for the state because it's an image of the state. When people think of Alaska, they also think of dog mushing. And it's great for the economy, because so many people come from other states to Alaska to see the various races. So we see this as a positive thing, you know, and we just want to let folks know that we support them."
Both the House and Senate unanimously passed the resolution in March as Iditarod finishers were crossing beneath the burled arch in Nome.