Barrasso: Biden must pull Stone-Manning BLM nomination if he's serious about domestic terrorism

This originally ran as an op-ed in the July 19 edition of USA Today.

President Joe Biden has called domestic terrorism one of the most serious security threats facing America. In June, his National Security Council even issued a strategy to combat it. So why is he standing by one of his own nominees who collaborated with ecoterrorists and lied to the Senate to cover up her actions?

On April 22, President Biden nominated Tracy Stone-Manning to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

With more than 10,000 employees, BLM manages roughly an eighth of the nation’s land, including nearly 65 million acres of forest. That land holds about 30 percent of our nation’s minerals and is used for a variety of functions, including energy development, livestock grazing, mining, recreation and timber harvesting.

The lands managed by BLM make up the majority of territory in many Western states, including my home state of Wyoming. Whoever leads this agency must have the faith and trust of the American people. Ms. Stone-Manning’s nomination violates that trust.

Involved with ecoterror tactic

Ms. Stone-Manning lied to the Senate about her past association with an ecoterrorist cell that hammered 500 pounds of metal spikes into trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest in 1989. She anonymously sent a disturbing and threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the ecoterrorists and then spent years covering up their crimes.

“Tree spiking” has a long history as an especially vicious ecoterrorist tactic. It involves hammering a metal rod or other material into a tree trunk, either at its base where a logger or firefighter might cut into it or higher up where it would mangle a mill’s saw blade.

Ecoterrorists who employ this tactic to stop legal timber harvesting know exactly what they’re doing. The results can be catastrophic to life and limb. Some of the spiked trees from the Idaho forest are still standing and remain dangerous to this day.

Nominees complete a background questionnaire under oath when they come before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Ms. Stone-Manning claimed she had “never been arrested or charged and to my knowledge … the target of such an investigation.” That’s not true.

According to court documents and news reports, Ms. Stone-Manning was investigated in a 1989 federal probe of this tree-spiking conspiracy. She was subpoenaed to provide physical evidence, including hair samples.

While denying it to the Senate, Ms. Stone-Manning admitted in 1990 that she was an investigative target. Her experience, she said, “was degrading. It changed my awareness of the power of government. Yes, this was happening to me and not someone in Panama.”

Ms. Stone-Manning also claimed that she “later testified in a trial that resulted in the conviction of a responsible individual.” That’s just part of the story. The reality is she didn’t cooperate with investigators.

A retired federal law enforcement agent who was the lead investigator for the crime wrote to the Senate saying she helped plan the spiking and she was a target of the investigation. He said she “absolutely refused to do anything” to help. Her intransigence set back the probe by years. Only after she was caught and offered immunity did she agree to testify against one of the spikers in 1993.

The Senate cannot confirm a liar

Her involvement and her false statements to the Senate about this ecoterrorist episode are reason enough to block her from serving as BLM director. Bob Abbey, who led BLM under former President Barack Obama, said these actions "should disqualify her" from leading this important agency.

It’s not clear her radical views have changed. In a 2018 article about Western wildfires, her husband wrote in Harper's Magazine that firefighters should just let homes built on the edges of forests burn. “There’s a rude and satisfying justice,” he wrote, “in burning down the house of someone who builds in the forest.”

Ms. Stone-Manning is not responsible for the views of her husband. But last September, she called the article a “clarion call” and urged people to read it.

BLM’s work is too important to be led by someone who covered up for ecoterrorists, lied to the Senate and supports extremist views most Americans find reprehensible. The Senate must reject this nomination.

The president’s own terrorism strategy recognizes the danger of environmental extremists. If he’s serious, he will withdraw Ms. Stone-Manning’s name from consideration and choose someone to lead BLM who can win the confidence of the American people.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is the senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.