Biden should pick a new leader for the BLM

Posted 7/13/21

In 1989, Tracy Stone-Manning mailed an ominous letter to the U.S. Forest Service, warning that 500 pounds of metal spikes had been driven into Idaho trees in an effort to prevent the forest from …

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Biden should pick a new leader for the BLM


In 1989, Tracy Stone-Manning mailed an ominous letter to the U.S. Forest Service, warning that 500 pounds of metal spikes had been driven into Idaho trees in an effort to prevent the forest from being logged.

“The reason for this action is that this piece of land is very special to the earth. It is home to the Elk, Deer, Mountain Lions, Birds, and especially the Trees,” read a portion of the missive from “George Hayduke,” noting the dangers the timber workers would face if they attempted to chop down the spiked trees.

“You bastards go in there anyway and a lot of people could get hurt,” the message concluded.

Because the letter was mailed from the Missoula area, authorities quickly focused on the then-23-year-old Stone-Manning and other students and staff at the University of Montana. Stone-Manning eventually admitted to being the one who put the letter in the mail — though she said she had no involvement in the spiking of the trees, did not write the original draft of the letter and agreed to send it only because she didn’t want anyone to get hurt. In 1993, Stone-Manning served as a critical witness for federal prosecutors when they pressed charges against three men affiliated with the radical Earth First group who actually did the spiking.

However, one of the federal investigators on the case recently told E&E News that Stone-Manning’s initial lack of cooperation “set the investigation back by several years.” That has spurred new scrutiny of her role in the tree spiking affair.

In the more than 30 years since then, Stone-Manning has made a clean break from extremism, going on to an accomplished career in public service and conservation. Stone-Manning helped clean up a Superfund site along the Clark Fork River, worked for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., served as the director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and as chief of staff to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Along the way, she picked up accolades for her ability to work collaboratively with a host of interest groups.

The Earth First backstory might have been little more than a footnote in Montana history. But now Stone-Manning is President Joe Biden’s surprising nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management.

Predictably, her confirmation in the Senate has become contentious. Stone-Manning’s allies have rallied to defend her, describing her as someone with a unique gift for bringing people together to solve problems. However, Republicans have blasted the nominee, including Wyoming’s Congressional delegation.

“Tracy Stone-Manning collaborated with eco-terrorists who had booby trapped trees with metal spikes. She mailed the threatening letter for them and she was part of the cover up. She did not cooperate with investigators until she was caught,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said last month, calling on Biden to withdraw her nomination.

In a Wednesday letter to the president, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said Stone-Manning “has proven she lacks the judgment and integrity to serve in such an important position. She is not the right person to lead our largest federal land agency, and Wyoming and the West deserve a better candidate.”

A mistake, or series of mistakes, made decades ago should not define a person for the rest of their life — especially when they’ve changed their ways, as Stone-Manning clearly has. But actions do have consequences, and an action as serious as assisting eco-terrorists should disqualify someone from serving as the director of the BLM.

The agency manages roughly one-eighth of America’s land mass, including 18.3 million acres of public lands and 42.9 million acres of federal mineral estate in Wyoming. The BLM also operates under a multiple use mission, which means finding a way to balance wildlife, oil and gas development, motorized recreation, non-motorized recreation, grazing and resource protection.

Stone-Manning has indicated that she thinks the agency has tilted too far toward industry’s interests. In an October opinion piece, she and two co-authors wrote that the BLM “hasn’t lived up to its multiple-use mandate in a long time,” implying the Obama administration was too supportive of industry. That’s bound to make Wyoming’s oil and gas and ag producers — who felt oppressed in the Obama years — awfully uncomfortable, particularly given her background.

Of course, Stone-Manning would not be the first BLM leader in recent history to have a potentially disqualifying past. Specifically, President Donald Trump nominated a BLM director, William Perry Pendley, who had views contrary to its mission; Pendley has called for all federal lands to be sold off and sympathized with rancher Cliven Bundy, who got into an armed standoff with the BLM over his belief that the agency lacks the constitutional authority to manage public lands.

In the opinion piece last fall, Stone-Manning and her co-authors said Pendley — who wound up receiving a lesser role — “should never have been allowed inside BLM’s doors.”

But here’s the thing: Bundy’s supporters, Earth First saboteurs, the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and other extremists all share more in common than they’d like to admit. They’re individuals who’ve become so angry and focused on their cause that they’ve abandoned the law and their moral compass. That kind of thinking has no place in civil society, let alone at the top of a federal agency. The whole philosophy underpinning the BLM’s multiple use mandate is that, despite widely divergent views, we can find the best way to manage our public lands.

Writing about Pendley in her op-ed last year, Stone-Manning summarized that President Trump withdrew the nomination “after it became clear that Pendley was simply too toxic to clear a Senate confirmation vote.”

We hope President Biden comes to the same realization about Stone-Manning.