Tracy Stone-Manning, a former leader of multiple environmental and conservation groups, was nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as director of the Bureau of Land Management, sparking a debate in New Mexico along party lines on her background and alleged ties to eco-terrorism.
New Mexico’s Democrat congressional delegation, U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan signaled early support of the nominee, while the state’s lone Republican in Congress U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell questioned if Stone-Manning was the right person for the job.
The decision to confirm Stone-Manning is consequential for New Mexico as The BLM oversees oil and gas development on federal lands, on which more than half of New Mexico’s fossil fuel development occurs.
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The industry makes up more than a third of the state’s budget, with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association estimating about $1 billion in revenue comes to the state from operations on federal land.
Upon her nomination, Stone-Manning was repeatedly criticized by Republicans and others for her role in a 1989 incident when she allegedly typed a letter from an anonymous person to the U.S. Forest Service warning that someone had hammered metal spikes into trees that were to be cut down for timber, per documents obtained by the Washington Post.
The “tree-spiking” incident led Republicans in Congress to accuse Stone-Manning of putting lives at risk, arguing such actions disqualified her from overseeing the federal agency tasked with managing such industries.
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Since then, Stone-Manning worked her way up in Montana politics, serving as executive director at conservation group the Clark Fork Coalition, director at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and as staff director for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and chief of state for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
Most recently, Stone-Manning was senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, a national non-profit.
But despite her experience in public lands and conservation issues, Herrell – who represents New Mexico’s southern Second Congressional District which encompasses the oil-rich Permian Basin region – argued Stone-Manning’s alleged past should bar her from the post.
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“Tracy Stone-Manning is simply not fit to be the next Director of the Bureau of Land Management. She engaged in and tried to cover up eco-terrorism tactics that put the lives of innocent people at risk, which alone should disqualify her from consideration for this position,” Herrell said.
She worried the nominee would not embrace a “multi-use” approach to land management that would allow industries like extraction to operate alongside wildlife conservation and other environmental agendas.
“The Bureau of Land Management is at a crossroads and needs an effective leader for active conservation which respects the agency’s multiple-use mandate,” Herrell said. “I do not believe Ms. Stone-Manning is that person.”
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Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said Stone-Manning was an ideal choice to unite environmentalists with industry leaders.
The Committee recently deadlocked on a 10-10 vote to support Stone-Manning, which Senate leadership then discharged to the full Senate with a floor debate and final vote impending.
“Westerners know that the only way to solve natural resources challenges is to work with people from all walks of life and with diverse perspectives,” Heinrich said.
“Stone-Manning has worked with ranchers and conservation advocates, hunters and mountain bikers, and unions and Tribal leaders, making her well-suited to lead the BLM.”
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A spokesman for Lujan said the senator plans to vote in favor of Stone-Manning’s confirmation, hoping she will diversify public land use for New Mexico and across the country.
“Senator Luján plans on voting in favor of the nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management,” said Lujan spokesman Adan Serna. “The Senator looks forward to working with her to bolster New Mexico’s outdoor recreation economy and protect public lands.”
Conservation groups also voiced support for Stone-Manning in the months since her nomination, with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation contending she would push for better wildlife and environmental conservation, both signature campaign promises from Biden before assuming the White House.
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“Tracy has been a tireless warrior for public lands and we here at the New Mexico Wildlife Federation are thrilled to see her nominated,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the Federation.
“She knows New Mexico and the West and will stand up for wildlife habitat as well as for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.”
The Colorado-based Center for Western Priorities said the administration of former-President Donald Trump damaged the agency by moving its headquarters to rural Grand Junction, Colorado, a move critics said was meant to reduce the agency’s influence and reduce staff as many in the former headquarters in Washington D.C. would likely not want to move almost 2,000 miles west.
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Trump also pushed an American energy dominance agenda while in office, seeking to rollback environmental regulations on oil and gas operations and open up more land to drilling.
“Despite never having a Senate-confirmed director to lead the Bureau of Land Management, the Trump administration waged a campaign to eviscerate agency leadership by forcibly moving its headquarters to rural Colorado,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director at the Center.
“It is critical that the Senate move quickly to confirm Stone-Manning so she can get to work rebuilding an agency that manages one-tenth of all lands in the United States.”
But industry groups continued to oppose the nomination.
Larry Behrens, Santa Fe-based western states director with oil and gas industry group Power the Future said Heinrich’s support of Stone-Manning was favoring “radical environmentalists” over the needs of New Mexicans.
“It is outrageous that Senator Heinrich believes someone involved in eco-terrorism and then lying to Congress is fit to lead an agency so critical to New Mexico,” Behrens said. “Senator Heinrich is elected to serve all the people of our state, but it’s clear he feels radical environmentalists are his real constituents.”
In a June 8 hearing before the Senate committee, Stone-Manning said she would embrace a diversity of federal land uses, including energy development, recreation and conservation.
“There is a lot of work to do. President Biden has called on the country to build the equitable, clean energy economy of tomorrow. He has called on us to conserve and restore lands to address the crises of biodiversity and climate change,” she said per a transcript of the remarks.
“He has been clear about the need to engage everyone, not just the privileged or special interests, and to ensure nature is accessible to all of us.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.