Retired investigator: Biden nominee stonewalled 1989 probe

FILE - In this June 8, 2021, file photo, Tracy Stone-Manning listens during a confirmation hearing for her to be the director of the Bureau of Land Management, during a hearing of the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. West is facing pressure to withdraw over her ties to environmental activists convicted of spiking trees to sabotage a national forest timber sale more than 30 years ago.

President Biden’s nominee to serve as director of the Bureau of Land Management is facing mounting opposition from Republicans in Congress amid concerns about what role she played decades ago with a group involved in a tree-spiking incident in an Idaho national forest.

Still unclear, though, is whether the opposition to Tracy Stone-Manning’s nomination will cross party lines and jeopardize her chances of confirmation in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which would need to approve Stone-Manning’s nomination for it to move forward. A Hickenlooper spokesperson said Friday that he plans to support Stone-Manning’s nomination but did not provide further comment other than to refer back to a June 4 statement in which Hickenlooper said in part that Stone-Manning “values public lands as much as Coloradans do and has experience working with Western communities on responsible stewardship.”

He also voiced confidence in that statement that she’ll “give full consideration to the benefits of housing” the agency’s national headquarters in the West. Hickenlooper wants to ensure the Biden administration doesn’t reverse the Trump administration’s move of the headquarters to Grand Junction, a move Stone-Manning previously criticized while working for the National Wildlife Federation.

ANTI-LOGGING HISTORY

On Wednesday, the Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee wrote to Biden to urge him to withdraw Stone-Manning’s nomination. They say she made false and misleading statements in a sworn statement to the committee by attesting that she never had been investigated for a violation of the law when in fact she was investigated in connection with the tree-spiking case. They also say her extremist activities disqualify her for running the BLM.

Tree-spiking involves driving metal spikes into trees to try to deter logging, a means of protest that can endanger loggers. In 1993, two men were convicted by a federal jury of tree-spiking in 1989 in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. Stone-Manning was granted immunity in the case in which she served as a witness. She had sent a letter to the Forest Service, originally drafted by one of the men, notifying the agency about the tree-spiking.

It said in part, “You bastards go in there anyway (and log) and a lot of people could get hurt.”

In written comments submitted to Senate committee members Wednesday, Stone-Manning said she had been a volunteer for the environmental group Earth First!, but had no involvement in spiking trees.

“I do not condone tree spiking or terrorism of any kind,” she said in written comments.

She said she sent the letter in an effort to notify authorities and didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

Also this week, Michael Merkley, a retired special agent for the Forest Service, wrote to the Senate committee leaders to say he investigated the tree-spiking case, and that Stone-Manning “was not an innocent bystander” in the matter, and only came forward after her attorney struck an immunity deal.

Stone-Manning said in her written comments this week that she got an attorney based on the the recommendation of a Forest Service law enforcement officer who had asked her to tell what she knew, and the attorney advised that she seek immunity as part of providing testimony.

Merkley wrote that Stone-Manning never was entirely forthcoming about the matter, including the role she played in the incident, and throughout the initial investigation in 1989 was the “nastiest of the suspects,” being vulgar, antagonistic and extremely anti-government.

Merkley wrote that in his view, confirming Stone-Manning to a “position of influence and public trust would be a terrible mistake.”

On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also called on Biden to withdraw Stone-Manning’s nomination, saying in a statement to the media outlet The Hill that she lied to the Senate “about her alleged participation in eco-terrorism.”

PUSHBACK ON ALLEGATIONS

Stone-Manning has served as 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.

She said in her written comments, “As I said at the (confirmation) hearing, my professional track record, over thirty years, shows a very western sensibility of working together to get things done. My approach to running the public lands program at the National Wildlife Federation also was a very bipartisan approach and yielded much bipartisan success. If confirmed, I will bring this approach to the role of BLM Director.”

In June, the Center for Western Priorities conservation group said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, launched a bad-faith attack on Stone-Manning over the 30-year-old tree-spiking incident after not bothering to bring it up in the confirmation hearing despite it being public knowledge for decades.

“Thirty years ago, Tracy Stone-Manning did the right thing by helping to convict eco-terrorists and warning land managers of their actions,” the group’s executive director, Jennifer Rokala, said in a statement in June. “If Senator Barrasso is so worried about terrorism, he needs to clean up his own house first. Barrasso voted against a bipartisan investigation into the attempted coup of January 6, but he thinks that someone who did the right thing three decades ago should be disqualified from a Senate-confirmable job.”

Rokala’s group suggested the attack on Stone-Manning is motivated at least in part by the fact that Stone-Manning supported her former boss, Bullock, last year in Bullock’s unsuccessful effort to unseat Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana.

BOEBERT WEIGHS IN

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, also has called on Biden to withdraw the nomination of Stone-Manning.

“Her criminal involvement in ecoterrorist activities is so extreme that even (former President Barack) Obama’s Bureau of Land Management director called on Biden to withdraw her nomination. America does not negotiate with terrorists, and it certainly shouldn’t appoint one to lead a federal agency,” Boebert said in a statement in late June.

Bob Abbey, who served as a BLM director under Obama, retracted his support for Stone-Manning due to the tree-spiking incident. Neil Kornze, another BLM director under Obama, recently came out in support of Stone-Manning in a column also authored by Jim Baca, a BLM director under President Clinton.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, in a statement to the Sentinel questioned the judgment of nominating someone to lead the BLM “who has a history of threatening a sister land management agency.”

Sgamma added, “She fooled the Montana Governor Bullock and Senator Tester, since she worked for them for many years, but other senators like Hickenlooper shouldn’t support a nominee with a background in ecoterrorism. Plus he shouldn’t be fooled by her obfuscation on the BLM headquarters remaining in Grand Junction, as it’s clear she intends to move it back to D.C.”

In her written comments, Stone-Manning said she understands that the previous headquarters relocation decision is being reviewed to determine if any changes are needed.

“If I am confirmed and asked to participate in that process, I would ensure that the issues get a fair review,” she said.