Young squeaks roadless rule exemption into agriculture bill

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in his office in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in his office in Washington, D.C., in 2017. (Photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

It took some doing, but U.S. Rep. Don Young squeezed the House for votes Thursday night and got an amendment into an agriculture bill to exempt Alaska forests from the Forest Service’s roadless rule.

It was a feat that played out on the House floor like political cinema.

During debate earlier in the day, Young said the rule severely curtails logging and hampers timber management in the Tongass National Forest.

“I’m saying this roadless rule takes away the opportunity for people to survive for their family and take and have a sustainable silvicultural industry, taking care of our forests in Southeast Alaska,” Young said.

The drama came a few hours later, during the vote, when it looked like Young, the most senior member of Congress, might lose. He stalked the aisles with his list, shouting the names of colleagues he needed to get on board. The vote clock ran to zero and he was still short, but the rolls were held open for about 12 extra minutes.

“I need four more votes,” Young shouted at one point.

Young got one yea. Then another. Then Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania, made a big show of changing his vote, from no to yes. Costello looked over at Young, to ensure the favor was noted.

And then Young had it: 208-207. He raised both arms in victory. A few minutes later he and other Congress members were at the elevators to leave for the night.

How did Young get the votes?

“It’s what you call kindness. Kindness,” Young said. “I can be nice.”

Congress members laughed as the elevator doors closed.

The roadless rule has been a thorn in the side of Alaska’s congressional delegation since 2001. Environmental groups and their allies among Southeast Alaska fishermen and business owners say it preserves habitat and protects old-growth trees.

The agriculture bill still has a long way to go. It includes restrictions on food stamps that Democrats oppose. The House is expected to vote on the full bill Friday. The Senate is writing its own version.

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