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WASHINGTON — The Senate narrowly approved Tracy Stone-Manning as director of the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday over vehement opposition from Utah's Republican senators, including one who called her confirmation offensive and insulting.
Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney argued that Stone-Manning, of Missoula, Montana, is unfit for the job because of her involvement with tree spiking more than three decades ago. Both described her as an "eco-terrorist," and earlier called on President Joe Biden to withdraw her nomination.
"She was and is a radical," Lee said Thursday on the Senate floor. "Her past actions, her positions, her statements and her goals would each individually disqualify her from service. But combined they make her, frankly, an offensive candidate to the countless people in Utah and throughout the West who rely on Bureau of Land Management cooperation for their livelihoods and for their way of life."
The Senate confirmed Stone-Manning 50-45 along party lines.
Romney said on the Senate floor that Stone-Manning is not worthy of the public's trust, and her history of aiding eco-terrorism is "extremely troubling" and alone should disqualify her for the position.
"It would be like nominating Bernie Madoff to serve as treasury secretary," he said.
Romney and Lee say Stone-Manning lied to a Senate committee about whether she was ever the subject of a criminal investigation, and as a result wasn't able to question her about her involvement in tree spiking.
Stone-Manning typed an anonymous letter to the U.S. Forest Service in 1989 saying that someone had driven hundreds of metal spikes into trees in Idaho's Clearwater National Forest that was slated to be cut down for timber.
Tree spiking involves hammering a metal rod or other material into the base of the trunk where a logger might cut into the tree or higher up where it would mangle a mill's saw blade. Environmental activists use the tactic to stop timber harvests.
In the letter, Stone-Manning wrote that the trees "were marked so that no workers would be injured." She also wrote that most trees were spiked within the first 10 feet but others were as high as 150 feet up.
Tracy Stone-Manning's history of aiding ecoterrorists—and her attempt to conceal it from the Senate—make her unfit to serve as Director of @BLMNational. Utahns deserve to have our 23 million acres of public lands managed by someone we can trust—and Ms. Stone-Manning isn't it. pic.twitter.com/PI8f1Nxdge— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) September 30, 2021
Democrats defended Stone-Manning, noting she was never charged with a crime and testified against two men who were convicted of spiking trees to sabotage the timber sale.
But the lead investigator in the criminal case wrote in a letter to the Natural Resources Committee that Stone-Manning was a target of the investigation and did not cooperate with investigators until she received immunity.
The decision to send the letter has followed Stone-Manning through her rise in Montana politics to become one of the country's prominent environmentalists and public lands experts.
Stone-Manning previously served as an adviser to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and as director of the state Department of Environmental Quality under former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, and later his chief of staff. Most recently, she was a senior adviser for conservation policy with the National Wildlife Federation.
While the Utah senators railed against her confirmation, Western conservation and environmental groups lauded her appointment.
Gwen Lachelt, executive director of the Western Leaders Network, called the Stone-Manning confirmation a win for Western communities, local economies and the future of public lands.
"Local and tribal elected officials work routinely with the agency on decisions that affect our lands, air and water, and we need someone who will responsibly manage these precious resources for the benefit of all," she said.
NEW: Tracy Stone-Manning has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as Director of @BLMNational. She will play a key role in @Interior's efforts to pursue a clean energy future and protect and conserve our public lands for generations to come.— US Interior Press Team (@USInteriorPress) October 1, 2021
Stone-Manning is the experienced and well-qualified leader that the BLM needs as it rebuilds after the devastation of the Trump years, said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities.
"I know firsthand that Tracy is someone who will put months of baseless partisan attacks behind her and manage America's public lands for all Americans," she said in a statement.
From oil and gas leasing, to imperiled species like the sage grouse, to managing and protecting Bears Ears National Monument, Rokala said, the BLM is at the center of the nation's conservation future.
Until recently, Stone-Manning's office would have been in Grand Junction, Colorado. President Donald Trump moved the agency's headquarters to the West last year but the Biden administration decided this month to move back to Washington, D.C.
Republican leaders in Utah called that a mistake.
About two-thirds of federal land in the state, totaling more than 34 million acres, is national forest or controlled by the BLM.