HELENA — Republicans on a U.S. Senate committee have asked the White House to withdraw the nomination of Montanan Tracy Stone-Manning to direct the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, saying she made “false and misleading statements” about her involvement in a 1989 tree-spiking incident.
Republicans also released a letter Wednesday from a former U.S. Forest Service investigator who said Stone-Manning helped plan the spiking and knew who had perpetrated the crime, but didn’t cooperate or come forward until 1993, when she faced possible prosecution and arranged an immunity deal in exchange for her testimony.
“Ms. Stone-Manning was not an innocent bystander, nor was she a victim in this case,” wrote Michael Merkley. “And, she most certainly was not a hero.”
Yet Stone-Manning, in written responses to questions from members of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she had no involvement other than sending a letter in 1989 to Forest Service officials notifying them of the tree-spiking.
At a 1993 federal court trial, she also testified against those involved in the tree-spiking. Two of them were convicted.
Stone-Manning hasn’t responded directly to Merkley’s allegations, but presidential nominees to federal positions generally don’t speak publicly during the nomination process unless cleared by the White House.
The Biden administration said Thursday it “stands by Tracy’s statements and written submissions.”
The White House also said it stands by her nomination, calling her a “dedicated public servant” who is “exceptionally qualified to be the next director of the Bureau of Land Management.”
It’s not clear when the Senate committee will vote on Stone-Manning’s confirmation. Sources told MTN News earlier this week that a vote could occur as early as next week.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is a member of the committee and has been speaking against Stone-Manning’s confirmation.
Stone-Manning, of Missoula, is a former state director for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and former director of the state Department of Environmental Quality under Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
She also has worked for the National Wildlife Federation and the Clark Fork Coalition, a conservation group based in Missoula.
Biden nominated her in May to head the BLM, which manages 245 million acres of federal land and has 9,000 employees.
Republicans on the Senate committee have asked Stone-Manning multiple questions about the 1989 tree-spiking incident, her personal loan from a wealthy Democratic donor in Missoula, and her attitude toward mineral, energy and other development on federal lands under the control of the BLM.
Those questions – and Stone-Manning’s answers – are detailed in a 57-page document released late Wednesday.
Stone-Manning said the letter notifying the Forest Service about the 1989 spiking of trees in a timber sale on an Idaho national forest had been composed by John Blount, and that he showed it to her outside Rankin Hall on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, where she was a student.
Tree-spiking involves driving metal or ceramic spikes into trees, to prevent them from being logged. Spikes can injure loggers who use chain saws or other mechanical saws to cut the trees.
Stone-Manning testified against Blount and others involved in the tree-spiking, after she had immunity from prosecution.
She said she sent the letter to the U.S. Forest Service because she wanted to notify them and feared that Blount would not do so.
“I was concerned that if I did not mail the letter, he would not, and I wanted to make sure that someone was aware of it so that no one would get hurt,” she said in her reply to the committee. “I recall being disturbed with the whole situation and frightened of (Blount); I wanted nothing to do with it and did not want anyone to get hurt.”
Merkley also said in his letter that Stone-Manning was “the nastiest of the suspects” when he first investigated the incident in 1989, was “extremely difficult to work with” and would not provide hair, hand-writing examples or fingerprints until she was told she’d be arrested if she didn’t.
He said other witnesses identified Stone-Manning as an active member of the group that planned the tree-spiking.
GOP senators also asked Stone-Manning extensive questions about a $100,000 personal loan she received in 2008 from Stuart Goldberg, a wealthy Missoula developer and frequent contributor to Democratic candidates.
They also suggested that Stone-Manning may have violated U.S. Senate ethics rules, because she worked for Sen. Tester at the time and didn’t report the loan as a gift. The loan was at 6 percent, well below the market rate for such a loan, they said.
Stone-Manning said Goldberg was a personal friend she’d known for some time and that she and her husband officiated at his wedding. She said she didn’t consider the loan to be a gift.
Stone-Manning said a stereo and home-theater store managed by her husband, Dick Manning, was failing during the 2008-09 recession, and that they used to money to pay off a business loan after closing the store.
They paid back Goldberg $40,000 in 2009 after selling their home and downsizing and then paid interest only on the loan, at 6 percent, until they paid off the remaining $60,000 of principal in 2020, she said.
“I believe the loan agreement with Mr. Goldberg represented a fair arrangement between friends, where Mr. Goldberg received a fair return on his loan,” Stone-Manning said.