Republican members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources issued a letter to President Joe Biden Wednesday urging him to rescind his nomination of Tracy Stone-Manning to lead the Bureau of Land Management. The letter’s signatories, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, say Stone-Manning made “false and misleading” statements to the committee about her involvement in a tree-spiking incident that led to an investigation and two convictions.
In 1989, while attending the University of Montana, Stone-Manning sent a letter to federal officials saying that trees in the Clearwater National Forest had been spiked, and that “a lot of people could get hurt” if logging in the forest proceeded. Tree spiking involves hammering a metal spike into a tree to discourage logging. Contact between a chainsaw or sawmill blade and a spike can seriously injure the operator.
Four years after Stone-Manning wrote the letter, she testified before a federal grand jury in Boise, Idaho, against two friends who were convicted in the tree-spiking case. She said she’d mailed the letter at the request of one of those friends, and to prevent people from getting hurt. She received immunity in exchange for the testimony and was never charged with a crime.
The Republicans on the committee say she mischaracterized her relationship to the investigation, claiming that her statement to the committee describing her appearance before the Idaho grand jury “as part of an investigation” downplayed her role. Specifically, they said, she didn’t “represent her role as an active participant in the activities associated with the tree spiking incident that were under investigation.”
“We believe that Ms. Stone-Manning’s false and misleading statements, as well as her extremist activities, disqualify her from serving as Director of this important agency,” the letter to Biden reads. “Any individual who leads this important agency must have the faith and trust of the American people. Ms. Stone-Manning has violated that trust.”
In addition to Daines, the letter was signed by Sens. John Barasso of Wyoming, Jim Risch of Idaho, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Hoeven of North Dakota, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, and Roger Marshall of Kansas.
On Thursday, ranking committee member Barasso elaborated on his concerns about the nomination, arguing that a recent letter from Michael Merkley, a now-retired special agent who investigated the tree-spiking incident, makes it clear that Stone-Manning “was a target of the investigation, did not cooperate with investigators until she received immunity and helped plan the 1989 tree spiking.”
Merkley wrote that Stone-Manning was among “the nastiest of the suspects” involved in the investigation and “vulgar, antagonistic, and extremely anti-government.”
The tree-spiking incident has surfaced at various points in Stone-Manning’s career, including when she was chosen by former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock to lead the state Department of Environmental Quality. The Montana Legislature questioned her about the incident and ultimately approved her appointment.
Last month Bullock told the Associated Press that Republicans on the Senate Energy Committee were grasping at old news to try to sink her nomination.
“She helped send a guy to prison 30 years ago when she was a college kid,” he said. “It’s never been a secret at all.”
Jon Tester, Daines’ Democratic counterpart in the Senate, was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Stone-Manning’s nomination. He described her as “somebody who exhibits uncommon common sense, somebody who has two ears and one mouth and acts accordingly [and] someone who is a critical thinker, thinks reasonably and promotes reasonable decisions” when introducing her before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources June 8. His support of her nomination appears to be unchanged by his Republican colleagues’ letter.
Prior to her post with the DEQ, Stone-Manning worked for Tester, first as a regional director and later as a state staff director and senior advisor.
A July 15 statement from Tester’s office says, “Tracy Stone-Manning is a dedicated public servant who has devoted her life to advocating for the public lands that drive our economy and serve as the backbone of Montana’s outdoor heritage. Tracy will bring Montana common sense to the Bureau of Land Management and serve as a collaborative, nonpartisan steward for our public land as well as the thousands of good-paying jobs that rely on them. I look forward to her confirmation.”
CONSERVATION GROUPS RALLY AROUND NOMINATION
A number of conservation organizations voiced their continued support of Stone-Manning and expressed frustration with Daines for attempting to nix her nomination.
Montana Conservation Voters Executive Director Whitney Tawney described Stone-Manning as an outdoorswoman, conservation professional and demonstrated leader. She said Daines’ “partisan attacks are an affront to all those who enjoy our public lands and want to see them managed with balance and transparency.”
Missoula’s Jock Conyngham, who’s worked with Stone-Manning in a number of capacities, including as a fellow Montana Conservation Voters board member, said Barasso and Daines are distorting her involvement in the tree-spiking incident and are only presenting “part of the picture.”
He said he’s always been impressed by Stone-Manning’s perspective and careful consideration of tough issues.
“Politicians forget that we send them to Helena and Washington not to do politics, but to do a job, and I’ve seen her over and over again opt for the viable solution rather than dogma.”
Conyngham added that he suspects Daines’ opposition to Stone-Manning’s nomination stems, in part, from Montana Conservation Voters’ endorsement of Bullock in the 2020 U.S. Senate race. He also said Daines is bucking the tradition of congressional delegates supporting nominees who hail from the state they represent in Congress.
“It’s unfortunate to see Sen. Daines turn his back on that tradition,” he said.
Wild Montana Executive Director Ben Gabriel described the Republican disparagement of Stone-Manning as “a full-throated campaign meant to smear the sterling reputation she has among Montanans on both sides of the aisle,” and said she’s needed at the helm of the BLM “as soon as possible” to address years of neglect and mismanagement.
“[Wednesday’s] action by Senator Daines is a disappointment to hunters, anglers, and all who care deeply about our public lands,” said an emailed statement from Frank Szollosi, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “Real Montanans support each other. At a time when our wildlife and habitat desperately need an effective leader like Tracy Stone-Manning — a Montanan and sportswoman who has the support of over 100 different conservation organizations — Senator Daines has chosen to put his personal, partisan grudge over the best interests of Montanans.”
Both Wild Montana and Montana Conservation Voters are circulating a petition to urge Daines to support her nomination.
If confirmed, Stone-Manning will serve under Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, whose nomination was also opposed by Daines.
For the second session in a row, Montana State University’s $38 million request for a new Gallatin College building failed to make the governor’s proposed budget. President Waded Cruzado and local supporters aren’t giving up.
The agency’s announcement was welcomed by Republican officials, who’ve long sought to restore management of grizzly bears to state agencies. Environmentalists questioned whether USFWS is fulfilling the mandates of the Endangered Species Act and cast doubt on Montana’s ability to manage grizzlies sustainably.
Gov. Greg Gianforte wants to put more state money into the Healing and Ending Addiction Through Recovery and Treatment initiative, but lawmakers and mental health advocates are asking for more accountability and clarity on how the money is spent.