The last thing the Bureau of Land Management needs is more controversy.
It’s gotten that in spades over recent years with William Perry Pendley running the agency in a de facto manner for the Trump administration.
Pendley’s tenure was marked with allegations that he ran roughshod over multi-year planning processes to deliver alternative management plans that expanded oil and gas leasing. He also oversaw a move of the BLM’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction that critics contend was part of a deliberate process to hollow out senior leadership.
The Biden administration had an obvious imperative: find a proven leader to stabilize the agency, provide a clear direction and improve employee morale.
Instead, Biden’s team put forth a damaged and marginalized nominee who, so far, has only prolonged the turmoil.
Last month, we looked at Tracy Stone-Manning’s work history — she’s a National Wildlife Federation executive who previously served as director of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality — and concluded that she could be an effective administrator. But that was before opposition started mounting over her role in a tree-spiking incident in an Idaho national forest in 1989.
This past Sunday, the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb provided the details of the incident and how it’s swelled into a controversy over whether she misled the Senate by downplaying her participation. She sent the Forest Service a letter, originally drafted by one of the tree-spikers, notifying the agency about the tree-spiking but says she wasn’t involved in spiking trees. Tree-spiking is a form of eco-terrorism, with potentially deadly outcomes for loggers and mill workers.
Stone-Manning was not “an innocent bystander,” according to a retired special agent for the Forest Service who investigated the matter.
Granted, the incident took place years ago and Stone-Manning’s career reflects a willingness to engage diverse stakeholder and strike a balance for multiple uses on public land. The extremism of her youth gave way to a more moderate approach.
But being involved in a tree-spiking incident, however marginal, is not a good look for someone now wanting to run a federal agency.
The more immediate question is why Biden’s team would want to push a nominee with even a whiff of extremism in her past. That was the knock on Pendley — that he was an anti-public lands extremist given access to the levers of power within the agency.
Maybe that’s why Democrats are sticking with Stone-Manning for now. As if to say, “We had to deal with Pendley; you deal with ours.”
But that tit-for-tat approach doesn’t recognize the fundamental weakness at the heart of this controversy. Someone who has shown a willingness to lie or mislead will have a difficult time gaining the trust of BLM employees and Congress.
She will enter office snakebit, and that won’t help the BLM or the communities impacted by its policies.
Confirmations boil down to the party in charge of the Senate. Right now that’s Democrats. So this may well be a tempest in teapot.
But, we think a less controversial nominee is in the agency’s best interest.
There are plenty of capable people — with far less baggage — available to run the BLM. To stick with Stone-Manning is to court controversy needlessly.
That’s the opposite of what the BLM needs now.