It’s official: Biden taps Tracy Stone-Manning as public lands chief

Manatees gather in waters within the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Credit: BLM Southeastern States

The White House said Thursday that President Joe Biden will nominate National Wildlife Federation executive Tracy Stone-Manning of Missoula, Mont., to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Stone-Manning became the senior adviser for conservation policy at the NWF after three years as associate vice president for public lands at the group. She’s also worked for former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, both Democrats.

“Tracy Stone-Manning has spent her career devoted to public service and conservation,” a White House news release said. “As senior advisor for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, she advocates for the wise stewardship of our nation’s lands and waters.”

Tracy Stone-Manning. Credit: National Wildlife Foundation.

The statement, released late on Earth Day, said Stone-Manning was one of a dozen people Biden intends to nominate for environment and climate-related positions in the departments of Transportation, State, Commerce and other agencies. The BLM is an agency within the Interior Department.

BLM Eastern States “manages over 10,000 surface acres of public land for multiple use in the 31 states east of and bordering the Mississippi River. They include the historic Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area in southern Florida and famous snow-white beaches of the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico,” according to the agency’s website.

The other nominee for an Interior post was Bryan Newland, who recently completed a term as the tribal president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, an Ojibwe tribe in Michigan, to be assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. He is a graduate of the Michigan State University College of Law, with a certificate from the Indigenous Law and Policy Center, and also received his undergraduate degree from Michigan State.

If confirmed by the Senate, Stone-Manning would lead an agency at the center of Biden’s conservation agenda while facing immediate administrative challenges.

The bureau could be relocating back to Washington only a year after former President Donald Trump’s administration made the decision to move its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo.

Since taking office last month, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has been noncommittal about the future location of the BLM headquarters, but many Democrats and conservationists, including Stone-Manning, criticized the relocation to Colorado, saying it undercut the agency’s influence in Washington and drove out skilled career staff.

U.S. House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva, (D-Ariz.), wrote a letter to Haaland on Thursday urging her to move the headquarters back to Washington.

Reviews of the move to Grand Junction made it “abundantly clear that this relocation was not conceived or executed in the best interests of the American people,” Grijalva wrote. Returning the bureau’s headquarters to Washington would be critical for Biden to reach his ambitious conservation goals, he added.

As a U.S. House member before joining the executive branch, Haaland opposed the move and appeared alongside Grijalva in a December 2019 news conference to voice her opposition.

Many of the decisions to come out of the bureau in the second half of the Trump administration could also be in jeopardy, as a federal judge in Montana invalidated two decisions last year on the grounds that Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley was unlawfully exercising the authority of the bureau’s director.

At NWF, Stone-Manning frequently criticized Pendley, a longtime attorney and activist for anti-federal lands causes. Trump nominated Pendley to lead the bureau on a full time basis, but the Senate did not consider his nomination.

Bullock, for whom Stone-Manning worked as chief of staff before joining the advocacy group, successfully challenged two BLM management plans in the state last year. An appeal the Trump administration launched is ongoing.

Before working for Bullock’s office, Stone-Manning led the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and was an aide to Tester, Montana’s senior senator.

In climate-induced weather disasters, a record number of wildfires burned the American West while hurricanes Sally and Paulette were among a record number of big storms in the Atlantic Basin. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The BLM, which oversees onshore oil and gas leases on federal lands and manages 245 million acres of land, will be central to the administration’s efforts on climate change and conservation.

The White House set a goal Thursday of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030. In his first week in office, Biden issued executive orders to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and water by that year and to pause new oil and gas leases on federal land.

Pivotal Senate moderates, including Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.), have not indicated whether they plan to support Stone-Manning’s nomination.

Senate Energy ranking Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming and Stone-Manning’s home-state senator Steve Daines, also a Republican, said last week they would consider Stone-Manning’s record if she’s nominated and did not rule out supporting her.

But the administration’s energy and conservation policies have been an area where Republicans have disagreed with Biden often in the first months of his presidency. Republican members of the Senate Energy Committee and others from Western states could use Stone-Manning’s confirmation process to again raise concerns with the administration’s direction.

Wildlife advocates applauded the nomination.

“Tracy Stone-Manning’s steadfast leadership in the conservation of public lands has been recognized by just about everybody who cares about the outdoors,” said Frank Szollosi, executive director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. “She will be a strong leader at the Department of Interior, and both Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines should work swiftly to confirm her as the next BLM Director.”

Florida Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.