When Adventure Journal last spoke to Tracy Stone-Manning in September, we wanted her take on William Perry Pendley, the mustachioed ex-oil lobbyist who had been calling the shots at the Bureau of Land Management for the previous 14 months, despite never being confirmed by the Senate.
A federal judge had just ruled that Pendley’s tenure as acting chief of BLM had been illegitimate, and that certain decisions the bureau had taken during his reign should be thrown out—including a pair of resource management plans that opened 95 percent of what Stone-Manning calls “the wild heart of Montana” to drilling.
We asked Stone-Manning at the time for her thoughts on Pendley’s management plans, and she didn’t hold back. “The judge has told us what we believed all along, that he was acting illegally as director, so therefore what he decided to do shouldn’t stand,” she said. “It’s just that simple. You don’t get to break the rules and still have your body of work stand.”
Strong words, but especially significant now that Stone-Manning is up for Pendley’s old job—or rather, the position he never held but whose power he used freely.
On April 22—Earth Day—President Joe Biden formally nominated Stone-Manning to lead the BLM, a federal agency that administers about a quarter-billion acres of public land. The bureau manages grazing, mining, and drilling on these lands, exercising tremendous influence over the ways that agriculture, industry and conservation intersect in the American West.
The BLM also has jurisdiction over several high-profile national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in southern Utah, which became a cause célèbre for environmentalists and Native rights activists after then-President Trump reduced their size by more than 2 million acres and invited oil interests to bid on the drilling rights to much of that land.
Speaking in her role as NWF’s Senior Advisor for Conservation Policy last October, Stone-Manning discussed what environmental advocacy groups could do to help roll back Pendley’s rogue legacy.
“We are going to make the case to [the Department of the] Interior that he had undue influence that was inappropriate since he was acting illegally as director, and we’re going to ask them to show us where his fingers were so that the public and the courts can decide what was appropriate for him to be doing or not doing,” she said.
The outgoing Trump administration was not at all forthcoming with that information. Rather than sending Pendley packing, Trump’s Interior Secretary David Bernhardt simply took the “acting director” placard off Pendley’s office door, and then transferred the duties of BLM director to himself. Then, instead of voiding the Montana management plans as the judge had ordered, Bernhardt signed them barely two weeks before Biden took office.
Trump’s BLM never did fess up to where Pendley’s thumbs had been, which is one reason it’s significant that Stone-Manning may soon be in charge of the entire pie. The work of removing the regulatory trapdoors that Pendley placed within the BLM will likely fall to her, and while she’s staying strategically mum ahead of her confirmation hearings, her comments on the October ruling suggest she’s ready to roll up her sleeves.
Stone-Manning spent four years at NWF, where she led the nonprofit’s public lands efforts. As you’ll no doubt hear from grandstanding Senators, three decades ago Stone-Manning did a turn as spokesperson for the activist environmental group Earth First. But it’s her more recent work experience that sheds light on how she got the nomination and why she has a realistic path to confirmation. Stints as chief of staff to former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and as an aide to Montana Sen. Jon Tester—both Democrats in a state that skews conservative—bolster her centrist credentials.
“She understands the complex issues facing the bureau, and will bring some Montana common sense to an agency that is in dire need of it,” said Tester, adding that Stone-Manning’s nomination is great news “for all Americans who value our public lands and the thousands of good-paying jobs that depend on their responsible stewardship.”
Stone-Manning’s experience balancing a conservation agenda with the priorities of Montana’s resource-based economy suggest she may be able to thread the needle in the Senate, where her confirmation will likely depend on a handful of Senators from conservative states that depend heavily on fossil fuels, including Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.
When she spoke with Adventure Journal last fall, her knowledge and appreciation of wild places was clear, particularly the 750,000 acres of public lands managed by the BLM’s Lewistown field office—some 95 percent of which Pendley’s resource management plan opened to oil and gas leasing.
“A bunch of people call it the heart of wild Montana,” she said. “It’s the Missouri River Breaks country, with these beautiful, rugged breaks leading into the Missouri and incredible prairie that is also just spectacular wildlife habitat.”
A hunter and avid hiker, Stone-Manning spent her honeymoon backpacking in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. Years later she blogged about back-to-back Grizzly encounters in the Badger Two Medicine, concluding that “wilderness reminds us that we’re small.” The Badger Two Medicine is a 130,000-acre swath of Montana wildland sacred to the Blackfeet nation. Before joining Trump’s BLM, William Perry Pendley was lead council for a company suing for oil and gas drilling rights there.