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President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management is facing staunch opposition from Republican senators accusing her of past affiliation with an "ecoterrorist" organization and deception regarding a three-decade-old “tree spiking” criminal case.
The opposition has grown to include several Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee weighing Biden’s nominee, Tracy Stone-Manning, to lead the BLM. Opponents include the committee’s top Republican, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, and centrist Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Barrasso, in a statement, accused Stone-Manning of “intentionally trying to deceive” the Senate Energy Committee about her involvement in criminal proceedings in the early 1990s involving an incident of “tree spiking,” in which metal rods, nails, or other materials are hammered into trees to sabotage logging operations. Barrasso and other Republicans argue Stone-Manning is not forthcoming about the incident, in which she helped send a threatening letter to authorities informing them of the "spiking."
“She told the committee she had never been the subject of an investigation and yet complained about being investigated in the press,” Barrasso said, referring to local news reports at the time of the incident. “President Biden should withdraw her nomination.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican who isn't a member of the Senate Energy panel, echoed Barrasso's calls in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. Sullivan cited comments from former Obama administration BLM director Bob Abbey, who said Biden should withdraw Stone-Manning's nomination.
"To my Democratic colleagues, I hope you join me, like Mr. Bob Abbey, in saying: Mr. President, guess what? You screwed up here. Withdraw her," Sullivan said.
"But if he won't do that, I hope every U.S. senator votes against this. We cannot condone, endorse, or vote for somebody who has been part of an ecoterrorist, radical, extreme, violent organization," he added.
The growing opposition from Republicans means Stone-Manning, a former director of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality who currently serves as a senior adviser for the National Wildlife Federation, would likely have to earn the votes of all Democrats on the Senate Energy Committee to move forward. It also signals a tough vote on the Senate floor if the committee advances her nomination.
Senate Energy Committee Chairman Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat and key swing vote, hasn’t indicated how he’ll vote. A spokeswoman for Manchin didn’t respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
The White House, meanwhile, is sticking by her nomination.
“Tracy Stone-Manning is a dedicated public servant who has years of experience and a proven track record of finding solutions and common ground when it comes to our public lands and waters,” a White House spokesperson told the Washington Examiner. “She is exceptionally qualified to be the next director of the Bureau of Land Management.”
The White House spokesperson didn’t directly address GOP concerns around the tree spiking incident.
At issue is testimony Stone-Manning gave in 1989 and the early 1990s during a criminal investigation into the incident to hinder a timber sale in the Clearwater National Forest area in Idaho.
Stone-Manning mentioned her testimony in a written questionnaire submitted to the Senate Energy Committee, in which she also said she has never been investigated for violating the law.
“In 1989, I testified before a federal grand jury in Boise, Idaho, as part of an investigation into an alleged tree-spiking incident related to a timber sale,” she wrote. “I later testified in a trial that resulted in the conviction of a responsible individual.”
A local Associated Press report in 1993 said two former Missoula residents pleaded guilty to the tree spiking, which occurred in March 1989. That article noted Stone-Manning, who was a graduate student at the University of Montana at the time, was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony against acquaintances involved in the incident.
In court documents obtained by the Washington Examiner, Stone-Manning testified in 1993 before a federal district court that she mailed a letter to the U.S. Forest Service for an acquaintance who had committed the tree spiking. The letter informed the agency of the incident and threatened it not to conduct the timber sale.
She said when she was approached by the acquaintance, she had no prior knowledge of the tree spiking and was “shocked.” Stone-Manning mailed the letter anonymously after retyping it on a typewriter to make sure it wasn't traced back to her or her computer.
“I wanted people to know those trees were spiked. I didn’t want anybody getting hurt as a result of trees being spiked,” she told the court at the time.
In 2013 testimony to the Montana state Senate energy panel, she said the person who gave her the letter was, "frankly, frightening. So, I mailed the letter and didn't say much about it."
A spokesperson for Barrasso criticized Stone-Manning for not disclosing to the committee she received immunity to testify.
“She did not notify the authorities. Instead, she spent time and effort to cover up the origins of the letter,” the spokesperson said of Stone-Manning’s actions in 1989, adding that Barrasso believes she is "disqualified" from leading the BLM.
Stone-Manning, a strong advocate for public lands and conservation, enjoys broad support from environmental groups, conservationists, and local Montana officials.
Chas Vincent, a former GOP Montana state senator, told NPR the tree spiking incident came up as Stone-Manning was vetted by state lawmakers to lead the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
“She knows how to take heat from both sides, is something that I think is a good takeaway from her experience in Montana,” said Vincent, a logger who led the Montana state Senate’s energy panel at the time of Stone-Manning’s confirmation.
Environmental groups say Stone-Manning is highly qualified to lead the BLM, which manages hundreds of millions of acres of U.S. public lands. Environmentalists are also accusing Barrasso and Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines of waging a smear campaign.
Stone-Manning worked in former Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s administration, and Daines faced Bullock in a tough reelection race in the 2020 cycle.
“Thirty years ago, Tracy Stone-Manning did the right thing by helping to convict ecoterrorists and warning land managers of their actions,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, in a statement last week.
“It’s clear this entire bad-faith attack is nothing more than Daines and Barrasso holding a political grudge rather than doing the right thing for the people of Montana and the West, who deserve a leader like Tracy Stone-Manning at the Bureau of Land Management,” Rokala added.
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Original Author: Abby Smith