After several years with no confirmed director, the Bureau of Land Management finally has a new head: President Joe Biden’s nominee Tracy Stone-Manning, who has been serving as the senior advisor for conservation policy for the National Wildlife Federation, was narrowly confirmed to the position by the U.S. Senate on Sept. 30.
Stone-Manning’s background as an environmental advocate and government staffer will inform her in her new position. Prior to her position as senior advisor, Stone-Manning served as associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation, an 85-year-old conservation non-profit. Before that, she was chief of staff for Steve Bullock, Montana’s democratic governor from 2013 to 2021. In 2020, Bullock sued for the removal of then-Acting BLM Director William Pendley, who held the position for over a year without congressional confirmation and who, federal judges ruled, was installed in the position illegally.
“The President cannot shelter unconstitutional ‘temporary’ appointments for the duration of his presidency through a matryoshka doll of delegated authorities,” wrote U.S. District Judge Brian Morris in the ruling.
Stone-Manning has also served as the director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, as a staff member for democratic Montana senator Jon Tester, and the director of Montana conservation nonprofit the Clark Fork Coalition.
“I think every step of my career has prepared me for this role,” Stone-Manning said during her testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. She also emphasized collaboration, dependence on facts, and Biden’s agenda of advancing clean energy and addressing climate change. She acknowledged, too, her love of the outdoors:
“The power I am granted by the mountains and rivers I love is ineffable but real,” she said. “This rare privilege has left me fiercely committed to ensure everyone, and future generations, shares the same opportunity.”
Stone-Manning has been endorsed by former BLM directors Neil Kornze and Jim Baca.
Many senators, however, are alarmed by an incident in 1989 involving Stone-Manning and an environmental activism organization called Earth First! A friend of Stone-Manning’s asked her to re-type an already-drafted anonymous letter to the U.S. National Forest Service, warning that Earth First! activists had hammered metal spikes into trees in an Idaho forest slated to be logged. Tree-spiking is a radical environmental activist tactic in which metal spikes are hammered into trees in places where a saw could be expected to hit it, either when the tree is being felled or when it’s being processed at a sawmill. The metal damages saws and equipment, and can also cause injury or death to the saw operator.
Stone-Manning sent the letter, which notes that the sale trees were marked so workers would be aware which trees were spiked. Later, during an investigation, Stone-Manning gave testimony that contributed to the conviction of activists involved in the incident.
The incident has led many members of congress to argue that Stone-Manning is unfit for the position of BLM director. Utah Senator Mitt Romney spoke against Stone-Manning’s confirmation on the Senate floor.
“It is quite obvious that the President’s nominee for Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, is not worthy of our trust,” Romney said. “Ms. Stone-Manning’s history of aiding ecoterrorism is extremely troubling—and alone should be disqualifying for the position in which she has been nominated.”
Utah Senator Mike Lee also opposed Stone-Manning’s appointment.
“None of us are saying that she put spikes in trees,” Lee said, but he did accuse her of participating in a conspiracy that could have hurt or killed innocent people.
“She and her cohorts used overt threats of violence—there’s nothing subtle here—in order to achieve a political goal. This is the definition of terrorism,” Lee said. He quoted the postscript of the 1989 letter, which reads: “You bastards go in there anyway and a lot of people could get hurt.”
The final vote was 50-45 in favor of confirmation. Stone-Manning awaits her swearing-in.