Tracy Stone-Manning, Biden public-lands pick, runs into GOP buzz saw over links to timber sabotage

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When Tracy Stone-Manning learned that an activist friend had driven potentially lethal railroad spikes into trees to stop a timber sale in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest, she could have turned him in. But she didn’t.

Instead, Ms. Stone-Manning rented a typewriter and retyped his anonymous letter to the Forest Service describing where the booby-trapped trees were located. She corrected spelling errors and removed some profanity. At his request, she mailed it.

That was 30 years ago, when she was a graduate student at the University of Montana, but her decision to cooperate with a confessed eco-saboteur — and to help hide his identity instead of going to police — now hangs over her nomination as President Biden’s pick to head the Bureau of Land Management.

Leading the opposition is Sen. John Barrasso, ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who said Friday that Ms. Stone-Manning “collaborated with eco-terrorists.”

“She did not notify the authorities,” a Barrasso spokesperson said in a Monday statement. “Instead she spent time and effort to cover up the origins of the letter. In light of this information, Ranking Member Barrasso believes she is disqualified from serving as the director of the Bureau of Land Management.”

The 1989 tree-spiking case, as well as a 2008 low-interest personal loan from a Montana developer that she did not repay until 2020, have turned her confirmation into the latest battleground over President Biden’s nominees, two of whom have already dropped out of contention.

Coming to Ms. Stone-Manning’s defense this week was the progressive Center for Western Priorities, which pointed out that she ultimately testified in the 1993 conspiracy trial, and that she “did the right thing by helping to convict eco-terrorists and warning land managers of their actions.” 

Jennifer Rokala, center executive director, accused Republicans of seeking payback for her support of former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, her erstwhile boss, in the 2020 Senate race against Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican.

“It’s clear this entire bad-faith attack is nothing more than Daines and Barrasso holding a political grudge rather than doing the right thing for the people of Montana and the West, who deserve a leader like Tracy Stone-Manning at the Bureau of Land Management,” Ms. Rokala said.

Mr. Bullock also defended his former chief of staff, saying that he knew about the case when he hired her.

“She helped send a guy to prison 30 years ago when she was a college kid,” Mr. Bullock told The Associated Press. “It’s never been a secret at all.”

As far as her critics are concerned, however, Ms. Stone-Manning has yet to come clean on the extent of her involvement in the 1989 incident.

“Ms. Stone-Manning informed the committee that she had testified as part of an ‘alleged’ tree spiking case in her committee questionnaire,” the Barrasso spokesperson said. “She also said she was not the subject of any investigation. The trees were in fact spiked (parties were found guilty) and she did not disclose that she had received immunity in order to testify.”

The Washington Times has reached out to Ms. Stone-Manning for comment.

A Daines spokesperson said the senator was troubled by Ms. Stone-Manning’s actions.

“Senator Daines was made aware of the content in the letter Ms. Stone-Manning re-typed and is alarmed by its hateful tone,” said the statement. “It raises new questions about her decision not to go straight to law enforcement.”

As head of the BLM, Ms. Stone-Manning, 55, would lead an agency that regulates grazing, logging, energy development and other commercial activities on 245 million acres, most of it in the West.

The tree-spiking episode occurred while Ms. Stone-Manning was active in Earth First!, the radical environmental collective associated with civil disobedience, direct action and eco-sabotage co-founded by Dave Foreman in 1980.

During the 1993 federal trial, Ms. Stone-Manning said that became involved with Earth First! shortly after arriving at the university for graduate school in 1988, and that she knew four of the five of the suspects in the tree-spiking case.

“We traveled in the same circle of friends basically,” she said in her testimony.

In April 1989, she said she ran into Jeffrey C. Fairchild and John P. Blount at the university. Blount, who went by the nickname “Spicer,” handed her a typed letter and asked her to mail it.

The retyped letter, part of the court record, admits to driving 500 pounds of 8- to 10-inch spikes into timber and reads in part: “The project required eleven of us to spend nine days in God awful weather conditions spiking trees … [that] were marked so that no workers would be injured and so that you assholes know that they are spiked,” the letter said. “The majority of trees were spiked within the first ten feet but many, many others were spiked as high as a hundred and fifty feet.”

After reading the letter, Ms. Stone-Manning told the court that she was “somewhat shocked. I hadn’t known this was happening. This was news to me.”

Even so, she said, “I took the letter and I thought about it overnight, and then I decided to mail it, but I decided to retype it first.”

Why mail it? “Because I wanted people to know those trees were spiked. I didn’t want anybody getting hurt as a result of trees being spiked,” Ms. Stone-Manning said.

Asked why she retyped it, she said she did so because “I didn’t want it on my personal computer.”

Two of the men, Arvid E. Hartley and Neil K. McLain, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor tree-spiking charges and agreed to testify against three others, including Blount and Fairchild, according to the 1993 Associated Press report. 

Both were convicted by the federal jury, and Blount was sentenced to 17 months in prison.

In a 2013 interview with the Missoulian, Ms. Stone-Manning said that after Blount handed her the letter, she realized “now my fingerprints were all over it.”

“The easy thing to do would have been to burn that letter and walk away and not be associated with it, but that was the wrong thing to do because trees were spiked and somebody could be hurt when the loggers were sent in,” she said. “So I mailed the letter.”

Ms. Stone-Manning, who also served as an editor of the Earth First! journal in 1991, said at the trial that she was unaware of other tree-spiking incidents, although Earth First! made no secret of its eco-sabotage sympathies.

In his book, “Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching,” Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman described “the proper way to spike a tree and explains why, when decommissioning a bulldozer, pouring sand into its gas tank is much more effective than pouring sugar,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 1990.

Mr. Foreman later stressed that the technique was meant to stop logging, not harm people, after California logger George Alexander was badly injured in 1987 when a bandsaw hit a spike embedded in a log. The broken blade went flying, hitting him in the head and slashing his face.

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