Up to 40 jobs may be headed to BLM headquarters

The Bureau of Land Management headquarters is at 760 Horizon Drive in Grand Junction.

Christopher Tomlinson/The Daily Sentinel

A conservationist and former political aide in Montana who has been critical of the Bureau of Land Management’s move of its headquarters to Grand Junction is expected to be President Joe Biden’s nominee to run the agency, according to multiple media reports.

Tracy Stone-Manning, senior adviser for conservation at the National Wildlife Federation, is slated to be nominated to the post, according to the reports. Politico Pro reported the nomination plans Wednesday morning, citing unnamed sources. Other media, including The Hill and E&E News on Wednesday, also reported that sources confirmed Biden’s plans to nominate Stone-Manning.

Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said that Interior and the BLM aren’t commenting on or confirming the reports. National Wildlife Federation spokesman Mike Saccone said Stone-Manning also isn’t commenting.

She began working for the National Wildlife Federation in 2017. She is former chief of staff for former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat. She previously was his director of the Department of Environmental Quality, and had held staff positions for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana. She was director from 1999-2007 for the Clark Fork Coalition, a Montana environmental organization.

In 2019, Stone-Manning repeatedly spoke out 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.

In July 2019, when the Interior Department confirmed the plan to move the headquarters, Stone-Manning in a statement said that “an expensive and unnecessary relocation for the BLM is as irresponsible as it is ill-advised.”

In September 2019, ahead of a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the relocation plans, Stone-Manning said in a statement, “The more we learn about the proposed BLM relocation, the more rushed and disorganized it appears.”

The Trump administration said moving the jobs put BLM leadership closer to the lands the BLM manages and the communities the agency’s decisions affect. Critics have been concerned in part that so many headquarters employees chose to leave the agency or retire rather than move from Washington.

Stone-Manning also had been opposed to the Trump administration having William Perry Pendley, then deputy director of policy and programs at the BLM, serve as its de facto leader, saying in one news release that he “doesn’t believe in the fundamental idea of public lands.” Pendley left the agency when Biden took office, and the agency currently is being led in an interim capacity by Nada Culver, the BLM’s new deputy director of policy and programs. A former attorney for conservation groups, Culver also has been viewed as someone Biden might nominate to be BLM director, and before joining the agency also had been critical of the headquarters move.

Deb Haaland, who recently was confirmed as Interior secretary, likewise spoke out against the relocation when she previously served as a U.S. congresswoman from New Mexico. But she committed during her confirmation hearing to keep an open dialogue and work with western senators on the issue of the headquarters status, and told U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., that she would visit Grand Junction and the headquarters.

Asked about the prospect of Stone-Manning possibly running the BLM after opposing the headquarters move, Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said, “I think it’s very different to be in the position than to be someone on the outside looking in.”

Brown said GJEP stands by the original business case for the headquarters being in Grand Junction, and hopes Haaland, the new BLM director and the interim director would all take a hard look at the rationale behind it, from the cost savings of the headquarters being in Grand Junction to the accessibility of leadership to the public, before making a decision on the matter.

Brown said she just doesn’t want to see a knee-jerk decision on the matter, and has the impression that Haaland will take a more deliberative approach, including by making the promised visit to the area and meeting with local stakeholders.

“I’m hopeful. I don’t know what’s going to happen but the fact that it hasn’t been yanked back yet is a good thing,” she said about the concern about the headquarters being moved back to Washington.

OIL AND GAS VIEWS

In March testimony before a House subcommittee, Stone-Manning praised bills that would require oil and gas companies to prevent methane gas emissions, reform bonding requirements to better ensure reclamation of wells, increase federal oil and gas lease royalty rates and minimum lease bid amounts, and restore previous levels of environmental and public review of lease sales.

“Tracy Stone-Manning has the vision and experience to lead the Bureau of Land Management through one of its most pressing times,” Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said in news release Wednesday. “Over the last four years, political leaders gutted the Bureau of Land Management headquarters and turned the agency into a rubber stamp for drilling and mining permits. … Stone-Manning’s depth of expertise and breadth of knowledge will be critical assets in reforming the Bureau of Land Management and restoring trust in our public land managers.”