President Joe Biden on Thursday announced his intent to nominate Montanan Tracy Stone-Manning to serve as director of the Bureau of Land Management, a move that would put in charge of the agency someone who has been critical of the relocation of the BLM’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction.
Stone-Manning is currently senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, and formerly was chief of staff for former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, after having served as his director of the Department of Environmental Quality. She also held staff positions for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and is a prior director of the Clark Fork Coalition, a Montana environmental organization.
Her nomination as BLM director was widely expected, with multiple media last week citing unnamed sources saying she was Biden’s pick.
The BLM hasn’t had a permanent director since the Obama administration. President Trump nominated controversial acting director William Perry Pendley for the job but later withdrew that nomination.
On Thursday, which was Earth Day, Biden announced the intent to nominate a number of people, including Stone-Manning, “to serve and further the Biden Administration’s commitment to a modern sustainable infrastructure and clean energy future,” according to the White House.
Stone-Manning’s nomination will be considered by the U.S. Senate, and she’ll almost certainly face questions about whether she thinks the headquarters should be moved back to Washington.
She repeatedly spoke out in 2019 against the Trump administration’s decision that year to move the BLM’s headquarters to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C. and to relocate other headquarters jobs out west. The new headquarters opened in January 2020. She has called the relocation “expensive and unnecessary” and “as irresponsible as it is ill-advised,” and said at one point that the “more we learn about the proposed BLM relocation, the more rushed and disorganized it appears.”
The Trump administration justified the move in part by saying it put BLM leadership closer to the lands the BLM manages and the communities the agency’s decisions affect. Critics say it weakened the agency in part because of so many employees leaving the agency rather than agreeing to move.
Coloradan Nada Culver, the BLM’s new deputy director of policy and programs and its interim director, also previously has criticized the relocation, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland likewise did so when she served as a member of Congress. But she has committed as Interior Secretary to work with Western senators on the issue of the headquarters status and to visit Grand Junction and the headquarters. Some 40 BLM jobs were moved to the city.
During a congressional budget hearing this week, Haaland said the Interior Department is still gathering information as it looks into the issue of whether the headquarters should be returned to Washington, and is assessing the impacts of the structural changes made to the agency.
She said Interior is working on rectifying the loss of experience and institutional memory resulting from people who declined to move west, has held a town hall with BLM employees and is committed to treating them with respect.
“It was sort of an upset when they moved across the country and the last thing we want to do is cause that again, so we’re being very careful about how we’re approaching it,” Haaland said.
On Thursday, Democrat Raul Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources, wrote Haaland to call for moving the headquarters back to the nation’s capital.
“Viewed in light of the damaging and foreseeable consequences of the move, the total lack of substantive rationale for the reorganization strongly suggested that it was intended to cripple the agency. Allowing this move to stand would only justify the Trump administration’s bad-faith efforts and could open the door to similarly destructive actions under future administrations,” he wrote.