Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., are the senators who did not vote on Sept. 30 to confirm Tracy Stone-Manning as the director of the Bureau of Land Management. Stone-Manning was confirmed on a 50-45 party line vote.
According to Western Justice founder Dave Duquette, the consequences are dire, especially for states that routinely interact with the BLM.
“They missed a huge opportunity by not voting on her and forcing (vice president) Kamala Harris to be the deciding vote, voting to confirm an ecoterrorist to lead the BLM,” Duquette said. “This could have been stopped. This should be a wake-up call for the western United States.”
In July of 2021, retired USDA Forest Service Special Agent criminal investigator Michael Merkley penned a letter to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Merkley said he was compelled to come forward with information about Stone-Manning after some news outlets had represented her as “a bystander or a victim.”
In his 28 years with the Forest Service, he was assigned to investigate a number of crimes committed on federal lands. In 1989, he was assigned to investigate the spiking of trees in a portion of the Post Office Timber Sale in the Clearwater National Forest.
That spring, the supervisor of the Clearwater National Forest in Orofino, Idaho, received an anonymous letter alleging that trees in the timber sale area had been spiked. More than just damage to government property, spiking is done with the goal of preventing loggers from cutting down the trees, and present significant danger to loggers when the chains strike the concealed spikes.
Merkley said in the course of his investigation, he obtained and carried out a search warrant for a residence known as the Sherwood House, identified as the local Earth First! residence in Missoula, Mont. Members of the activist group were identified as the ones responsible for teaching a tree spiking seminar at the University of Montana, and evidence was seized during that search that linked the activists to the event and the tree spiking.
Merkley said he presented the evidence to Assistant U.S. Attorney George Brietsmeter, which resulted in grand jury subpoenas for hair samples, handwriting exemplars, and fingerprints. One of the subpoenas, he said, was served on Stone-Manning.
He said Stone-Manning was the “nastiest of the suspects” and was “vulgar, antagonistic, and extremely anti-government” in addition to being uncooperative, initially refusing to provide the samples as ordered by the federal grand jury.
Merkley said in late 1992, Guenevere Lilburn contacted the FBI in Boston and came forward with information with regard to the tree spiking incident, naming Stone-Manning and others. Merkley said Lilburn’s testimony led to the grand jury notifying Stone-Manning that she would be indicted on criminal charges for her active participation in the tree spiking on federal lands. In December of 1992, Stone-Manning was named as the activist who wrote and sent the threatening letter to the Forest Service in 1989.
“Let me be clear,” Merkley said. “Ms. Stone-Manning only came forward only after her attorney struck the immunity deal, and not before she was caught, at no time did she come forward of her own volition, and she was never entirely forthcoming. She was aware that she was being investigated in 1989 and again in 1993 when she agreed to the immunity deal with the government to avoid criminal felony prosecution. I know, because I was the special agent in charge of the investigation.”
Merkley retired from the Forest Service in 1997 and said he received a number of letters of appreciation and recognition for his service. He said his experiences with Earth First! led, at least partially, to his decision to retire early.
“During the last years of my career with the Forest Service, this eco-terrorist organization harassed me and my family,” he said. “In fact, I received death threats from them and at one point was made aware that they had solicited a contract to kill me and harm my family.”
Merkley said now, even 25 years later, he remains concerned for his safety but was compelled to come forward as Stone-Manning was evaluated as a candidate for the director of the BLM position.
“I am grateful to the lead investigator for providing the committee with all of the facts of the case,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the ranking member of the committee. “Not only did Tracy Stone-Manning collaborate with ecoterrorists, she also helped plan the tree spiking in Clearwater National Forest. She has been covering up these actions for decades, including on her sworn affidavit to the committee. This new information confirms that Tracy Stone-Manning lied to the committee that she was never a target of an investigation. The nominee has no business leading the Bureau of Land Management. President Biden must withdraw her nomination and if he does not, the Senate must vote it down.”
Every Republican on the Senate Energy Committee signed a letter in July to President Biden urging him to withdraw her nomination. The letter said Stone-Manning made “false and misleading statements in a sworn statement” to the committee regarding her involvement in the tree spiking incident that put lives at risk.
In a speech to the Senate on Thursday, Sen. Cynthia M. Lummis, R-Wyo., described Stone-Manning as “one of the most egregious nominations to ever receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
“It’s hard to believe, but she has colluded with eco-terrorists, plain and simple,” said Sen. Barrasso, who held up a metal spike during his Senate speech. “She stonewalled a criminal investigation for years. She lied to the Senate. And she still holds radically dangerous views and yet she is still the nominee of the president of the United States for this very important post. It is outrageous.”
According to a letter Sen. Barasso sent to the committee, Stone-Manning (on her committee questionnaire) said she was never the subject of a criminal investigation and that the case was an “alleged” tree spiking. In court testimony obtained by the committee, Stone-Manning admitted she edited, retyped, and sent a threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the eco-terrorists. The court documents also confirm that hundreds of trees were spiked. Some of these trees remain a danger to loggers, Forest Service employees, and fire fighters.
The first BLM director to serve in the Obama administration, Robert Abbey, said the incident ought to preclude her from serving as the BLM’s leader, saying Stone-Manning brings “needless controversy that isn’t good for the agency or the public lands it oversees.”