Montana conservationist to be tapped to head U.S. Bureau of Land Management

White House announces other Department of Interior nominees

By: - April 14, 2021 12:29 pm
Craters of the Moon

The vast majority of caves found within the Crates of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, which is cooperatively managed by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, are lava tubes. They formed when the cooling exterior of an active lava flow insulated the molten river within, allowing it to continue to flow. (Courtesy of Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Managment)

President Joe Biden intends to nominate National Wildlife Federation senior adviser and veteran Montana Democrat Tracy Stone-Manning to direct the Bureau of Land Management, an individual familiar with the process confirmed to States Newsroom on Wednesday.

Stone-Manning joined the NWF as associate vice president for public lands in 2017 and was promoted to senior adviser for conservation policy in January. She had worked as chief of staff to former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, after a stint leading the state’s Department of Environmental Quality during Bullock’s administration. She also was an aide to Sen. Jon Tester, (D-Mont.), from 2006 to 2012.

Politico Pro first reported the nomination, spurring reaction from conservation groups and Democrats who praised the move.

“This would be a big deal for Montana and for all Americans who value our public lands and the thousands of good-paying jobs that depend on their responsible stewardship,” Tester said in a statement. 

Stone-Manning “understands the complex issues facing the department, and I know if nominated she’d bring Montana common sense to land management decisions that will keep our economy thriving.”

“Having Tracy Stone Manning lead the BLM will be an incredible boon for Montana and our nation,” Ben Gabriel, the executive director for the Montana Wilderness Association, said in a statement. “She’s a straight shooter, with an impressive history of working on both sides of the aisle for the good of public lands, wildlife, water quality, and Montana’s rural communities.”

Gabriel also called on Montana’s other U.S. senator, Republican Steve Daines, to support the confirmation. BLM is part of the Department of the Interior.

A spokeswoman for Daines, who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would consider Stone-Manning’s confirmation, did not return a message seeking comment.

Representatives for the NWF declined to comment Wednesday.

BLM manages 250 million acres of public lands

The BLM could be a key venue to advance conservation and climate policy, a priority Biden has said for years would be a central part of his presidency. 

The bureau manages nearly 250 million acres of public lands, almost all of in the West. It oversees 12 million acres in Idaho.

It is also responsible for approving oil and gas leases on federal lands. Biden paused new leases shortly after taking office, while ordering a review of federal leasing policy. Emissions from oil and gas development on federal lands accounts for nearly one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

If confirmed, Stone-Manning would face unusual challenges for a new BLM leader.

The BLM did not have a confirmed director during former President Donald Trump’s time in office. William Perry Pendley, a deputy director who previously worked as an anti-government legal activist, was the de facto leader but lacked the support in the Senate even from some Republicans to win confirmation for the fulltime post.

A Montana federal judge invalidated some decisions the BLM made during Pendley’s time in office because he was serving illegitimately.

The Trump administration also oversaw the move of BLM headquarters from Washington to Grand Junction, Colo. The move was criticized by many Democrats and conservationists who viewed it as weakening the bureau’s influence in Washington and expected it to drive out many of the agency’s career experts.

In her position with the NWF, Stone-Manning criticized Pendley’s record and said the BLM should have a director who believed in the bureau’s multiple-use mission. Stone-Manning’s backers said she was well-suited to help the bureau reverse the direction Pendley had set it on. 

Jennifer Rokala, the executive director for the liberal conservation group Center for Western Priorities, said in a statement Pendley was a “rubber stamp” for the oil and gas industry and said she expected Stone-Manning to consider a broader range of interests. 

“The damage wrought by the Trump administration on an agency which manages one-tenth of the land area in the United States is almost incalculable,” said Rokala. “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.”

White House announces more Interior nominees

The White House and Interior also officially announced four other nominees Wednesday. They are:

  • Energy and environment attorney Tommy Beaudreau to be deputy Interior secretary. Beaudreau was chief of staff to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and led the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees federal offshore wind policy, during former President Barack Obama’s administration. He is a partner in the Washington office of the international law firm Latham & Watkins.
  • Environmental activist and executive Shannon Estenoz to be assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. Estenoz, a fifth-generation Floridian, was most recently the chief operating officer of the Everglades Foundation. She previously oversaw the Obama administration’s Everglades restoration work. 
  • Think tank executive Winnie Stachelberg to be assistant secretary for policy, management and budget. Stachelberg is the executive vice president for external affairs at the liberal Center for American Progress.
  • Water lawyer Tanya Trujillo to be assistant secretary for water and science. Trujillo most recently worked as a project director with the Colorado River Sustainability Campaign.

“Our nominees each have deep experience leading on energy and environmental issues, working across federal, state, local and Tribal governments, and coordinating engagement with a variety of stakeholders,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. 

“I look forward to working with them to advance Interior’s mission to steward America’s natural, cultural and historic resources and honor our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes.”

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.