President Joe Biden’s top pick to lead the Bureau of Land Management, Tracy Stone-Manning, faced criticism from Republicans and praise from Democrats during a two-hour Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday.
The hearing comes amid controversy about the agency’s new headquarters, which was moved to Grand Junction from Washington in July 2019 under the Trump administration. While 328 jobs were promised, the office largely has been deserted, as 287 employees resigned or retired and 41 accepted the relocation.
Only three employees have moved to the Grand Junction office, Colorado Newsline reported this week, citing the BLM. A security guard at the headquarters said many employees were teleworking.
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., who sits on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which oversees the BLM, met Monday with Stone-Manning ahead of the hearing to discuss priorities for Colorado. He repeated his support for a BLM headquarters in the West.
“Tracy Stone-Manning values public lands as much as Coloradans do and has experience in working with Western communities on responsible stewardship,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “We discussed her vision for the agency, and I’m confident she’ll give full consideration to the benefits of housing the BLM out West.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, introduced the LOCAL Act in March to keep BLM headquarters in Grand Junction.
“Westerners deserve a voice in the land-use decisions that affect their lives daily,” she said in a news release. “I am proud to introduce the LOCAL Act to ensure that our local communities have access to the decision-makers at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters. Since 99% of the lands that the Bureau manages are West of the Mississippi, it only makes sense to have the agency located close to the communities it serves.”
At the hearing, Hickenlooper said the Trump administration’s actions affected the people of Grand Junction as well as BLM employees.
Hickenlooper noted the BLM’s Resource Management Plan for the Uncompahgre Field Office, which outlined mineral extraction plans and other activities on federal lands spanning five counties in Southwest Colorado.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Gov. Jared Polis oppose the plan. The senator asked Stone-Manning if she would work with him in reviewing the plan.
“Senator, if I have the honor of being confirmed, I’ll work really closely with you and the folks in Colorado on the ground whose voices need to be heard in that planning process,” she said.
At the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., grilled Stone-Manning for her support of restricting public land use and opposition to the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” stance. Similar to “energy independence,” the term suggests the United States would be self-reliant in maintaining energy supplies while exporting to other countries.
Barrasso also criticized Stone-Manning for her tweets, her view of Republican legislators and her record.
“The Bureau of Land Management needs a director who believes in and is committed to upholding the agency’s multiple-use mandate,” Barrasso said at the hearing. “Based on her record, I’m concerned Ms. Stone-Manning does not fit the bill.”
Democratic senators painted a different picture. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who employed Stone-Manning early in her career, introduced her to the committee.
“Tracy is a proven leader with a track record of working across the aisle to get things done,” Tester said. “She is honest. She is driven by facts, not political ideology. She is adept at managing the needs of diverse interests, and I know she’s a perfect choice to run the BLM.”
In an opening statement, Stone-Manning tied land restoration to building the job market and cited her experience working across party lines.
“If confirmed, I will listen,” she told the committee members. “And I will seek to work with anyone willing to help tackle these problems, regardless of party. That’s how we find durable solutions, by working together.”
Before working for Tester, Stone-Manning worked as a local environmental activist. She later led the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and was chief of staff for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Most recently, she worked at the National Wildlife Federation as a senior adviser for conservation policy.
Stone-Manning also expressed a passion for the outdoors.
“Every step of my career has prepared me for this role,” she said. “My professional life has been informed by a private passion for hiking, backpacking, hunting and floating. The power I’m granted by the mountains and rivers I love is ineffable but real. This rare privilege has left me fiercely committed to ensure everyone, and future generations, shares the same opportunity.”
If confirmed, Stone-Manning would have sway over lands and minerals in all states. BLM manages 8.3 million acres of public lands in Colorado, which is more than 12% of the state.
Stone-Manning also would be the first Senate-confirmed director since the Obama administration.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., commended Stone-Manning for her experience in Indigenous land management, wildlife conservation and water settlements. He “hopes this committee will advance this nomination quickly,” he said at the hearing.
“Westerners know that the only way to solve natural resource challenges is to work with people from all walks of life, and Tracy has done that throughout her career,” he said. “She has worked with ranchers and wilderness advocates, with hunters and mountain bikers, and trade unionists and tribal leaders. And she knows how to work across the aisle to find creative solutions.”
Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a 2021 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.