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Biden’s new head of public lands faced with bridge building after Confirmation battle

By on October 22, 2021 0

Before inspiring partisan theater in the U.S. Senate as a candidate for the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning built a reputation in Montana – her home for over 30 years – as a consensus builder.

Stone-Manning has distinguished himself as an expert in bridging the gaps between environmentalists and loggers, miners and recreational land users, in a region undergoing rapid and often painful transformation.

Despite this reputation, Stone-Manning’s Senate confirmation process to lead the BLM has become one of the most controversial of President Joe Biden’s tenure, with GOP opponents waving tree tips during a Senate hearing. and accusing him of lies after the discovery of conservative media. Stone-Manning’s links to an act of eco-terrorism in 1989.

Republicans in the evenly divided Senate failed – the Senate confirmed her in a party line vote on September 30, and although she has yet to be officially sworn in, she has started working in as director of the BLM on Oct. 7, Home Office spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said. . Republican senators have not given up and promise to keep a close eye on the BLM.

But people who have worked with Stone-Manning say she will go beyond the hustle and bustle of confirmation and set a Montana-like record as she begins working as BLM’s first confirmed director in four years, managing 245 million acres of land and overseeing policy on federal oil and gas leasing, mining, grazing and other matters.

His role is critical to meeting the president’s climate goals and bringing stability to a federal agency rocked by a move from its headquarters to Washington led by the Trump administration. This decision has now been overturned by Home Secretary Deb Haaland.

“There are a lot of people she won’t be able to help because they’re too entrenched,” her former boss and chief champion Montana Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat, said in an interview Tuesday. “There are other people she can work with because they want to do good things for our public lands. If you don’t want to be a part of it, that’s your problem.

“If you really want to be a part of that, Tracy Stone-Manning is a person big enough to treat you like a normal human being no matter what has happened in the past.”

The Montana years

Associates of his time as a conservationist in Montana testify to his ability to build bridges.

“She has always been very straightforward, very professional, and very helpful in working with people of differing opinions,” said Gordy Sanders, Resource Manager for Pyramid Mountain Lumber Inc., who worked with Stone-Manning on a project. Federal law on forestry and conservation. while she was on the test staff.

Prior to working for Tester, Stone-Manning led the Clark Fork Coalition, an advocacy group for the protection and restoration of the Clark Fork River near Missoula.

She is best known during her time there, from 1999 to 2007, for leading the campaign to remove the Milltown Dam, an aging hydroelectric generator. The dam was downstream from an Anaconda Mining Company site that contaminated the water with arsenic.

Stone-Manning called the dam a “time bomb” because of the potential of the decaying structure to release contaminated water further downstream, said David Brooks, who wrote a doctoral thesis, later published as of book, on the removal of the dam.

She worked with the agencies involved and interests aligned both for and against the removal to ultimately achieve consensus.

“There were a lot of people involved in this, but she was driving this bus,” said Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “If that was the only thing she’s done in her career, it would be a very successful thing for her to look back on.”

“This remains one of our major accomplishments as an organization,” said Karen Knudsen, who succeeded Stone-Manning as Executive Director of the Clark Fork Coalition and retains this role. “It took a really delicate policy. And this is where Tracy’s ability to bridge cultural divides, political divides… really shone.

Later, while working for Tester, she summoned loggers and environmentalists to craft the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a proposal to allow more logging in certain areas and designate others for them. Hobbies.

The bill did not pass in the U.S. Senate – Tester still pursues its goals in other laws, including the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act that a Senate energy and natural resources subcommittee reviewed on Tuesday.

But the coalition Stone-Manning formed in its development remains, Tawney said.

“The forestry community and the conservation community in Montana disagree, to put it mildly,” Tawney said. “Cautiously, Tester, through Tracy, has succeeded in bringing this coalition together.”

This coalition would have been unthinkable decades earlier, during the period of violence of the 1980s and 1990s between environmental activists and the lumber industry, Tester said.

“She brought these people together,” Tester said. “People who during the Wood Wars you couldn’t put them in the same room, and if you did, violence would have broken out.”

“Should have disqualified her”

Republicans waged a long campaign to derail Stone-Manning’s nomination because of her actions as a University of Montana graduate student in 1989.

Stone-Manning sent a threatening letter on behalf of a radical environmentalist group that had planted trees in the Clearwater National Forest to prevent a timber sale. Stone-Manning said she posted the letter to warn lumber workers who may be in danger.

She then testified against men convicted of plotting the act. She has denied any further involvement, but other accounts contradict hers.

Schwartz declined a request to make Stone-Manning available for an interview for this report.

The legacy of the Timber Wars and Stone-Manning’s role in them is part of what made his confirmation so acrimonious, and what may continue to be an obstacle to working with elected Republican officials.

Sanders, the forestry executive in Montana, said he was unaware of Stone-Manning’s involvement in tree planting when they were working on the Trees Bill. jobs in the woods, but that it did not change his opinion.

While she may have gone beyond her association with radical groups to build coalitions that include the lumber industry, national Republicans have only toughened up against her.

In an example of the rhetoric heating up, U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale, a Republican from Montana, tweeted a comparison of Stone-Manning with the Taliban.

Rosendale’s position also showed how decades-old events transformed Stone-Manning’s reputation once they hit the national stage: as a state senator in 2013, Rosendale voted to confirm Stone. -Manning for a state post, although she was questioned about the tree-hanging incident. during this confirmation process.

Through a spokesperson, Rosendale declined an interview request for this report.

As late as Tuesday, U.S. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the leading Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who led the fight against Stone-Manning’s confirmation, was still speaking out against her.

He used his time at a hearing Tuesday for applicants for non-BLM jobs to ask if applicants had ever threatened federal workers “verbally or in writing,” a clear allusion to the letter Stone-Manning admitted aggressively sending to the US Forest Service. spiky trees warning.

Stone-Manning’s “collaboration with eco-terrorists, lies in the Senate and extreme views should have disqualified her from overseeing US public lands,” Barrasso said in a written statement to States Newsroom.

“Senate Republicans will exercise rigorous oversight over Tracy Stone-Manning and the agency she heads. Now that she is the director of the BLM, we will demand truthful and prompt answers to the questions we ask and we expect her to testify in person at the hearings.

Jim Baca, who was the first director of the BLM under President Bill Clinton in 1993, drew parallels between his confirmation process and that of Stone-Manning. Senate Republicans dragged out his confirmation because they opposed his case as a “known environmentalist,” he said.

Still, Baca took office in May.

“And here, in October, has she just confirmed?” It’s crazy. It’s just crazy, ”he said. “Much of it is a drama and every senator has to go to confirmation hearings and put on a great show.”

Score points ?

Tester said the Republican opposition may have been motivated in part by a desire to score points against a political opponent. Stone-Manning supported his former boss, Gov. Steve Bullock, in his 2020 challenge to incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines.

“There are people who want to settle this score beyond the election result,” Tester said.

Asked for comment, Daines staff pointed to a press release after the Senate vote in which they said it was now up to Stone-Manning to restore trust with the Montanans, stakeholders, including loggers. and the employees of the Bureau of Land Management, and to show that it will run the agency in a bipartisan and pragmatic manner.

Tree-planting scandal aside, Stone-Manning’s record might have seemed ideal for a role that requires mediation between industries and communities with very different desires for public land.

“The job of director of the Bureau of Land Management is one of the toughest jobs in America,” Tawney said. “Their job is to think of multiple uses. You will never make someone completely happy because if you do that it means it is at the expense of someone else.

Her work in Montana, where Tawney is also based, “absolutely” prepared her to reconcile disparate groups, he said.

“Although it was a rough start, she doesn’t go there to sit on her hands,” he said. “She goes there to work. And this work will require the search for a consensus for it to last a long time.

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