After a contentious battle over five months where she was labeled an “eco-terrorist,” Tracy Stone-Manning was confirmed to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Oct. 1.
The Senate voted 50-45 in her confirmation, with five Republicans choosing not to vote. Prior to the vote, Republicans criticized her nomination, pointing to the 1989 incident where Stone-Manning was connected with four men from Earth First, who spiked trees to stop logging in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest.
Stone-Manning was accused of sending a typewritten letter to the U.S. Forest Service, warning that trees in the forest contained the spikes. The letter prompted a grand jury investigation with Stone-Manning testifying in a subsequent trial, leading to two people’s indictment.
During the debate, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) called Stone-Manning one of the ringleaders in the incident, despite her assertion she did not participate in the tree spiking. Barrasso called on Republicans and “every courageous Democrat” to oppose her confirmation.
“Tracy Stone-Manning is a dangerous choice to be put in charge of America’s public lands. And each and every senator who votes to confirm her will be held personally responsible for that vote,” Barrasso said during the hearing.
Democrats noted during the debate that Stone-Manning was not charged with the crime, and she testified that the letter was sent to warn people so they did not get hurt.
“The truth is, Tracy Stone-Manning did nothing wrong,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) at the hearing. “And in fact, the people who went to jail went to jail because of Tracy Stone-Manning.” Stone-Manning was a senior aide to Tester from 2007 to 2012.
Tester accused Barrasso and other Republicans of unfounded “character assassination” because she worked for former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who challenged Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) for a Senate position and narrowly lost.
“The facts don’t back up what they’re saying, and the character assassination is not something you should be proud of,” Tester said.
Daines issued a statement after the confirmation, stating Stone-Manning “misled” the Senate about her involvement in the tree spiking incident, which “greatly damaged her credibility and public trust.” Daines continued, “It’s now up to Stone-Manning to rebuild trust with Montanans, stakeholders, including loggers and (BLM) employees, and show that she will lead the agency in a bipartisan and pragmatic way.”
During the floor debate, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) said that the issue would come up every time Stone-Manning represented BLM before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“What I can tell you is when she comes before the committee that we sit on, where we have oversight of the BLM, … how will we believe one word she says?” Risch said.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he reviewed the 1993 trial and found no evidence that Stone-Manning was directly involved or committed a crime. “We’re not here to prosecute people. That’s not our job,” Manchin said.
Prior to her confirmation as the director of BLM, Stone-Manning served as the associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, which praised her confirmation.
“After nearly five years without a Senate-confirmed leader at the helm of the Bureau and at a time when our public lands are suffering from prolonged drought, devastating wildfires and other climate-fueled disasters, Tracy will bring visionary leadership and a collaborative management style that will restore and revitalize our public lands and waters,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.
Stone-Manning becomes the first director to lead the BLM since Neil Kornze served under the Obama administration. Former President Donald Trump nominated then-Deputy Director for Policy William Perry Pendley but pulled his nomination last September before a Senate hearing.
Kornze told E&E News Stone-Manning brings “an extraordinary level of experience to the job.”
“In the days ahead, I’m certain she’ll be reaching out to all corners of the agency to ask what she can do to support their work and to get their input on the agency’s priorities,” Kornze said.
Stone-Manning is faced with handling the relocation of the BLM headquarters back to Washington, D.C., after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the move, despite Haaland saying the Grand Junction, CO, facilities will be an expanded “Western headquarters.” Many unresolved issues regarding the relocation include three senior positions open for state director positions in Alaska, New Mexico and Wyoming—all currently led by acting directors—and refilling positions that remain vacant after close to 300 personnel left during the Trump administration.
Stone-Manning also faces how the BLM’s 247 million acres will be managed for multiple uses, including grazing and oil and gas development. A federal judge in June overturned President Joe Biden’s moratorium on oil and gas leases on public lands. In August, the Interior Department announced it would resume oil and gas leasing on public lands while it appeals the court ruling. According to E&E News, the BLM also announced last month a solar lease sale will occur in November.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Executive Director of Natural Resources and Public Lands Council Executive Director Kaitlynn Glover said in a statement that ranchers are ready to work with Stone-Manning, as the mission of the BLM is critical to ranchers and rural communities.
“The BLM is an important partner to ranchers across the West, and it is our expectation that Director Stone-Manning uphold the law, support multiple use management and recognize the important role ranchers play in managing and conserving these large landscapes,” Glover said. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor