Tracy Stone-Manning, President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management, was confirmed on a 50-45 party-line Senate vote Thursday night.
Stone-Manning will be the first confirmed director of the BLM since the Obama administration, following Neil Kornze, who served from March 2013 to January 2017.
President Donald Trump never nominated anyone to run the agency, responsible for managing 10% of the nation's lands, including 8.3 million acres of public lands and 27 million acres of federal mineral estate in Colorado. The agency, part of the Department of the Interior, was managed for two years during the Trump administration by an acting director, William Perry Pendley, formerly of Colorado. Pendley was a longtime critic of the BLM who advocated for the sell-off of public lands.
Stone-Manning's confirmation was no cake walk. She was accused by Republicans, including Colorado GOP Chair Kristi Burton Brown, of being an eco-terrorist for her role in a tree-spiking incident in 1989.
The Associated Press reported on that incident in June. "As a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Montana, Stone-Manning sent a letter to federal officials in 1989 saying spikes had been inserted into trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest. The profanity-laced letter warned 'a lot of people could get hurt' if logging proceeded," according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press from federal archives. Stone-Manning admitted she retyped, edited and mailed the letter on behalf of the activist who spiked the trees and who was later sentenced to 17 months in prison.
Democrats have accused Republicans of playing politics with Stone-Manning's nomination.
Both of Colorado's senators voted in favor of her confirmation.
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., who sits on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which oversees the BLM, said in a statement Thursday that “Tracy Stone-Manning will be the partner Colorado and the West needs to make our new BLM Western Headquarters a success. Together we will protect our public lands.”
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a statement that “In the face of our changing climate, we need a Senate-confirmed director who can rebuild the Bureau of Land Management into an agency that will restore and protect our public lands to sustain our economy in the West. Tracy Stone-Manning has spent her career listening to local input and working across the aisle to do just that, which is why I’d like to congratulate her on her confirmation today. I look forward to working closely with Tracy and Department of Interior leadership to ensure they follow through on their commitment to build and expand the BLM Western Headquarters in Grand Junction.”
Burton Brown said after the confirmation vote that "Today, Senator Bennet and Senator Hickenlooper voted to confirm an eco-terrorist to lead the Bureau of Land Management. This absolutely shameful vote comes just a few weeks after they did nothing to defend Colorado or fight to keep the Bureau of Land Management HQ in Grand Junction. Bennet and Hickenlooper's vote will be devastating for Colorado and the West."
Stone-Manning's boss, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, recently announced the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction would return to Washington, D.C., while also enhancing its presence in Grand Junction, where the agency has had a field office for decades. The move of the BLM by career staff to Grand Junction was seen as divisive to the agency; only three employees (out of 27 jobs targeted for moving to Grand Junction) relocated to the Western Slope, and according to a June report in Government Executive they want to go back to Washington.
The BLM move to Grand Junction was championed by then-Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and supported by the rest of Colorado's congressional delegation, as well as Gov. Jared Polis. Then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the move would put agency executives closer to the land they manage, despite the fact that 97% of BLM employees were already based in the West, and would save money. The building chosen by the agency, at 760 Horizon Drive, houses numerous companies tied to the oil and gas industry. BLM manages oil and gas leases.
A review of the decision by the Governmental Accounting Office, a 2019 request from Haaland, then a member of the House from New Mexico, and U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. criticized BLM leadership for failing to "address key practices for involving employees and key stakeholders in developing its plan." The Interior Department did not agree or disagree with the GAO recommendations, nor did it take any action to address the GAO criticisms around involving employees in key decisions. Congress did not appropriate funding for the move.
Haaland made it clear in a summer visit to Colorado that she was reconsidering the decision. During that July visit, Haaland pointed out that there were more than 80 vacancies in the Grand Junction office that cannot be filled "we chart a balanced course forward."
Stone-Manning, 56, was born in Springfield, Virginia. She earned a bachelor's degree in radio, TV and film from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in environmental studies from the University of Montana. She served eight years as executive director for the Clark Fork Coalition, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting the Clark River. She later worked for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., as a regional director and acting state director. From 2017 until this year, she worked for the National Wildlife Federation as an advisor and associate vice president for public lands.