The Senate confirmed Tracy Stone-Manning as Bureau of Land Management director in a party-line vote Thursday, placing a former Earth First! activist involved in a 1989 tree-spiking plot in charge of managing vast swaths of Western lands.
The Senate voted 50-45 to approve the nominee, perhaps the most contentious of President Biden’s picks to win confirmation, after months of fiery criticism of her radical past and repeated GOP calls for the White House to drop her and choose someone else.
“Tracy Stone-Manning misled Montanans and the United States Senate about her involvement in an ecoterrorism tree spiking crime, which greatly damaged her credibility and public trust,” said Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, after the vote.
“It’s now up to Stone-Manning to rebuild trust with Montanans, stakeholders, including loggers and Bureau of Land Management employees, and show that she will lead the agency in a bipartisan and pragmatic way,” he said.
The vote came after a two-hour debate marked by heated speeches from Senate Republicans, who denounced her as a “radical,” an ecoterrorist,” “wholly unqualified,” and decried her nomination as “an insult to the American West.”
Sen. Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming Republican, said that she thought that the Senate would be united in its “opposition to ecoterrorism.”
“And yet in about an hour, the Senate will be voting to confirm a known ecoterrorist collaborator to lead one of the most consequential land-management agencies,” she said during the floor debate. “I’m flabbergasted. I’m aghast. I’m horrified.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer accused Republicans of “histrionics,” saying Ms. Stone-Manning earned a reputation in Montana state government as “not only as a skilled policymaker, but also as an honest broker, one who commanded the respect of conservationists and ranchers alike.
“You’d never guess that by listening to some of the histrionics coming from the other side. Unable to disqualify Ms. Stone-Manning on the merits, some of our Republican colleagues have used her nomination to launch cheap, out-of-context attacks,” Mr. Schumer said. “Thankfully, nobody is taking these attacks seriously.”
Ms. Stone-Manning becomes the first confirmed director since Neil Kornze, who headed the agency during the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017.
Since then, only acting directors have led the BLM, which is charged with managing 245 million acres of federal land, or 12% of the nation’s land mass.
She served previously as a regional director for Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat; chief of staff to then-Gov. Steve Bullock; and head of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
But it was her activism as a University of Montana graduate student that dominated the debate.
In 1989, she retyped, edited and mailed an expletive-filled anonymous letter on behalf of radical tree-spikers who sabotaged a tree sale in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest.
She testified against them in 1993 as part of an immunity deal.
Ms. Stone-Manning was never charged with a crime, but the lead federal investigator said she stonewalled the probe and only agreed to cooperate after it became clear she could be indicted.
Republicans accused her of lying to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee when she said on her questionnaire she had never knowingly been under federal investigation.
“Her defenders have said that she helped put the bad guys in jail. In fact, President Biden’s nominee is one of the bad guys,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and the committee’s ranking member.
Republicans also decried her support for a 2020 article written by her husband, Richard Manning, suggesting homes built in the forest should be left to burn in wildfires, and her graduate thesis advocating for population control.
They noted that Bob Abbey, who led the BLM before Mr. Kornze during the Obama administration, withdrew his support in June for the nominee.
“If she is confirmed, Senate Democrats will be held wholly responsible,” Mr. Barrasso said. “They should consider carefully if they want to have their name associated with Tracy Stone-Manning.”
Mr. Tester praised his former staffer as “a good woman” and called the attacks “character assassination like I’ve never seen before.”
“But let’s be honest. What is this really about? Is this about Tracy Stone-Manning?” asked Mr. Tester. “No, this is about the Republicans in the Senate trying to make Joe Biden look bad. That’s what this is about.”
The committee advanced Ms. Stone-Manning nomination in July on a tie party-line vote, but her nomination hung in limbo until Mr. Schumer placed it Tuesday on the calendar in the middle of high-profile wrangling over the budget and infrastructure bills.
“I think the Biden administration thought with all this chaos that they’re creating, maybe nobody will notice Tracy Stone-Manning’s confirmation process and vote,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, Alaska Republican.
“Well, they thought wrong. As you can see, there are some really strong feelings about this nominee,” he said.