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Murkowski to oppose Stone-Manning nomination, while Tester works to keep support among Dems

President Joe Biden has nominated National Wildlife Federation executive Tracy Stone-Manning of Missoula to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
President Joe Biden has nominated National Wildlife Federation executive Tracy Stone-Manning of Missoula to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Biden’s pick to lead BLM is under fire for her connection to an Idaho tree-spiking scheme from three decades ago

WASHINGTON — Another Republican senator plans to oppose President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, who has been targeted by conservatives over her connection to an Idaho tree-spiking scheme three decades ago.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who serves on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, told States Newsroom that the senator intends to vote against the nomination of Montana’s Tracy Stone-Manning. Murkowski has at times voted with Democrats in the evenly divided Senate.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a key supporter of Stone-Manning, on Tuesday mounted a defense of her nomination to Senate Democrats at their weekly caucus lunch, urging their support and downplaying attacks from the GOP.

Tester’s press office said he discussed her “exceptional qualifications as a collaborator,” and “made clear that she is not who Republicans think she is.” Every Democratic vote may be needed for the nomination in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie vote.

Several Democrats on the Energy panel have not publicly stated their positions on whether they will vote to advance Stone-Manning’s nomination to the full Senate.

Murkowski had previously expressed “deep concern” about Stone-Manning’s work with the National Wildlife Federation, which has opposed oil and gas leases in Murkowski’s state. Stone-Manning had said she understood the post of BLM director is a different job than her advocacy work.

At least two other Republicans on that panel, ranking member John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jim Risch of Idaho, also have said they would oppose Stone-Manning’s nomination in the wake of recent news reports about Stone-Manning’s role in mailing a threatening warning letter as part of a tree-spiking incident in 1989.

Barrasso has called the incident “disqualifying,” while Risch said that Stone-Manning “colluded with eco-terrorists.”

Tree-spiking, a form of sabotage in which a metal rod is hammered into a tree trunk, is a federal crime because it can injure tree workers as well as destroy equipment.

Stone-Manning has said she sent the profanity-laced letter to the U.S. Forest Service because she feared for her safety if she did not comply with the request from John P. Blount, who served prison time for the incident.

While no Democrats have voiced opposition to her nomination, Energy Committee Chairman Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat, has not yet disclosed how he plans to vote or the timing of a committee vote.

Manchin’s office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The Senate is not scheduled to be in session next week ahead of the July Fourth holiday, so any vote on Stone-Manning’s nomination may not occur until at least the week of July 12, when the Senate is expected back from recess.

If she does win Senate confirmation, Stone-Manning would lead the federal BLM, which oversees onshore oil and gas leases on federal lands and manages 245 million acres of land.

She previously was senior adviser for conservation policy at the NWF, after spending three years as the group’s associate vice president for public lands. She’s also worked for former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Tester.

Spokesmen for two Democrats who serve on the Energy panel, Sens. Mark Kelly, of Arizona, and John Hickenlooper, of Colorado, did not respond to messages Wednesday from States Newsroom seeking comment on how they plan to vote on her nomination.

This confirmation process isn’t the first time that Stone-Manning has faced questions about the tree-spiking incident: Republican state lawmakers brought it up in 2013, when she was nominated to head the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Some Senate Republicans also have taken issue with Stone-Manning’s response to a questionnaire she submitted to the Energy committee.

In a portion of that document obtained by States Newsroom, she responded to a question about whether she had been investigated over breaking any laws by stating that she had never been “the target” of such an investigation.

She added that she had testified before a federal grand jury in Boise in 1989 “as part of an investigation into an alleged tree-spiking incident,” and that she also testified in the ensuing trial that led to “the conviction of the responsible individual.”

Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.