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Alaska governor pledges collaboration on highway, talks Arctic security in 1st visit to Yukon

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai sign two cooperation agreements at the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse on Friday. (Gabrielle Plonka/CBC - image credit)
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy and Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai sign two cooperation agreements at the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse on Friday. (Gabrielle Plonka/CBC - image credit)

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy wants to establish a "long overdue" relationship with the Yukon, starting with a request for funding for Alaska Highway improvements.

Dunleavy paid his first-ever visit to the territory this week for a series of meetings with Yukon officials spanning Thursday and Friday morning. In addition to transportation infrastructure, they discussed regional security and potential cross-boundary firefighting strategies.

To conclude the visit, Dunleavy and Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai signed a memorandum of understanding on the Alaska Highway at a news conference Friday morning.

Dunleavy has pledged to seek U.S. federal funding for highway improvements between Destruction Bay, Yukon, and the U.S. border on "a reimbursement basis" in the memorandum. Once funds are secured, the Yukon has promised to initiate restoring the highway.

The U.S. has historically funded improvements to Canadian portions of the highway under the 1977 Shakwak Agreement, until those allocations disappeared from the American budget in 2013.

Dunleavy says Alaska is eager to rekindle that relationship after COVID-19 revealed "a warning of the future" in relation to potentially dangerous supply chain issues. When the Port of Seattle nearly shut down and airlines weren't operating during the pandemic, the state was at risk of running out of food, Dunleavy recalled.

The Alaska Highway south of Beaver Creek, Yukon, in September 2022.
The Alaska Highway south of Beaver Creek, Yukon, in September 2022.

The Alaska Highway south of Beaver Creek, Yukon, and the U.S. border, in September 2022. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"We decided at that point that we aren't going to wait for somebody to take care of us," Dunleavy told reporters on Friday. "We have to start acting like a sovereign on our own."

Arctic security discussed

Dunleavy and Pillai met with Dr. Ken Coates, chair of the new Yukon Arctic Security Advisory Council, early Friday morning. Pillai said the council wants to meet with Alaskan officials before submitting its report on risks to Yukon security, which was mandated earlier this month.

"We are in a great position right now to work together," Pillai said.

Dunleavy described Alaska as being "on the front line" of Arctic security. He said that Alaska has the largest Coast Guard presence in the U.S. in addition to its Air Force and army bases.

"We chase out Russian fighters and bombers almost on a weekly, monthly basis," Dunleavy said. "We have Chinese warships going right past Alaska in the Bering Strait … and we theorize we're within the [Korean] missile umbrella range."

Dunleavy continued to describe the balloon that was shot down over the Yukon last year as a "wake-up call" necessitating new approaches to Arctic security. He said there's room for partnership defending against high-tech warfare.

"[Our] joint military presence does look out for both Yukon and Alaska, and so we'll see where it takes us," Dunleavy said.

The two leaders also signed an agreement to pursue friendlier relations on fighting fires, wildlife management, and cross-boundary work opportunities. The agreement, dubbed the Intergovernmental Relations Accord, committed to five years of actively pursuing more collaboration.

Dunleavy was joined in Whitehorse by the Alaskan commissioners of Fish and Game, Transportation, and Natural Resources. The Alaskan officials additionally spent time meeting with business and industry leaders, as well as Yukon Environment Minister Nils Clarke to discuss fish and wildlife management.