In Colorado, A Range Of Reactions To Biden’s Pick For The BLM

Stina Sieg/CPR News
The Bureau of Land Management will learn Wednesday how many of its career staff will follow orders and move to new posts across the West. About two dozen positions will be based at the BLM’s new national headquarters in the small, high-desert city of Grand Junction. More than 70 percent of Mesa County is public land, including this rocky swath, about 15 miles from new head office.

Colorado now knows President Joe Biden’s choice to occupy the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction, or oversee its return to Washington, D.C.

As part of Earth Day, the president announced a list of nominations “to serve and further the Biden Administration’s commitment to a modern sustainable infrastructure and clean energy future.”

On the list was Tracy Stone-Manning, nominee for Director of the Bureau of Land Management. 

Stone-Manning most recently served as Senior Advisor at the National Wildlife Federation. Before that she worked for former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, as his chief-of-staff and Director of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality. And she has ties to the Senate, working for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

Colorado’s senators seem open to the nomination.

Sen. Michael Bennet’s office said he looks forward to talking about Colorado's priorities with Stone-Manning. “As a westerner, Tracy Stone-Manning has worked on public lands issues for years and understands their importance to our economy,” a spokesperson said. Bennet had opposed the nomination of William Perry Pendley during the Trump administration.

Sen. John Hickenlooper sits on the Energy and Natural Resources committee, where the confirmation hearing will be held.

“Colorado communities need a strong advocate at the BLM who understands our commitment to public lands and Senator Hickenlooper looks forward to meeting with Tracy Stone-Manning and learning more about her views on public lands, the agency, and the Grand Junction headquarters,” a Hickenlooper spokesperson said.

But there are also hints of a possible divide emerging. While House members do not have a say in the confirmation process, GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert expressed “serious concerns” about the nomination. The new headquarters is in her Western Slope district, and the BLM controls much of the land in the area.

“Ms. Stone-Manning has an extreme record opposing issues that are important to the West and the people in my communities. Her opposition to the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters move as well responsible oil and gas development that creates good-paying jobs and has helped reduce carbon emissions significantly is of concern,” Boebert said. “I hope she will pursue the interests of the people and not pander to partisan environmentalists.”

The future of BLM headquarters is a question hanging over western Colorado. Colorado leaders of both parties have pushed to have the headquarters stay in Grand Junction. 

But the same day that Biden announced his intent to nominate Stone-Manning, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, wrote to Interior Sec. Deb Haaland saying that “BLM will be most effective if its headquarters and senior staff return to Washington, D.C.”

He has long been critical of the move, calling it “ill-conceived, poorly planned, and shoddily executed” that has “damaged a critical land management agency.” 

Haaland has offered no hint as to whether the Bureau will stay or go. This week, she told members of Congress that her department is still gathering information, but she wanted to avoid doing anything that might further damage morale or push people out of their jobs. 

‘“It was sort of an upset when they moved across the country, and the last thing we want to do is cause that again. So we’re being very careful about how we’re approaching it,” Haaland said.

Haaland welcomed the nomination, saying Stone-Manning cares deeply that the stewardship of public lands and water “is responsible and equitable.”

If confirmed, Stone-Manning will have a big say on a number of issues affecting Colorado — where the Bureau manages 8.3 million acres of land and 27 million acres of mineral rights. 

“Stone-Manning’s leadership will rebalance the multiple uses of our public lands in Colorado by reintegrating conservation,” said Scott Braden, Director of the Colorado Wildlands Project. He applauded the nomination, as did many conservation groups. “She can also assure that our public lands are working towards our nation’s urgent climate goals, not against them."

The outdoor group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers said Stone-Manning would be an asset as someone “who has hunted, fished and hiked” on the lands she will oversee. “She’s smart, thoughtful and a good listener. She can work with folks from diverse backgrounds to find common ground, and she’ll ensure the BLM is a good neighbor to the West,” said Land Tawney, BHA President and CEO.

But she’ll also face challenges and a few lawsuits, including one brought by Denver-based Western Energy Alliance over the temporary ban on lease sales on public lands. 

The Alliance believes the leasing moratorium, issued via presidential executive order, violates several laws and is, in essence, a permanent ban. The Western Energy Alliance said oil and natural gas development provides good paying jobs and supports conservation funding through its royalty system. The BLM announced on Wednesday that it was canceling 2nd quarter lease sales.

The choice of an environmentalist to lead BLM did not surprise Katheleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. “However, with [Stone-Manning’s] experience in Montana state government and the practicality that comes with it, I would hope that she can provide some clarity on how BLM will actually implement the Biden leasing ban.”

Sgamma said she is hoping for more information on the mechanics of the Biden administration’s “review” of the federal oil and gas program.

Conservation and environmental groups have welcomed the pause. “Canceling these oil and gas lease sales is a small but vital step as the Interior Department conducts its top-to-bottom review of America’s rigged oil and gas leasing system,” siad Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director of the Center for Western Priorities. He said fossil fuel companies are “sitting on” unused leases and permits they can develop in the meantime.

The State of Colorado is also suing the BLM in a different matter: to invalidate the Trump-era Uncompahgre Resource Management plan. 

Pete Kolbenschlag, director of the Colorado Farm and Food Alliance, said he hoped that reviewing that “problematic” RMP would be a priority for Stone-Manning. 

“The North Fork Valley is among several places where the Trump administration issued a ‘drill everywhere’ resource management plan, or where protective plans were upended. That has put our public lands at risk, often against the wishes of area residents and businesses,” he said.

Colorado ranchers who graze on public lands said they want a positive working relationship with the agency and will also be keeping a close eye on Stone-Manning during the confirmation process.  

“At the end of the day, public lands ranchers are part of the solution when it comes to BLM’s ability to achieve conservation and climate goals set by this administration,” said Kaitlynn Glover with the Public Lands Council, which advocates for ranchers. “Above all, BLM must uphold its obligations to enact successful multiple use [policies] and partner with ranchers to use grazing as a tool to manage millions of acres across the West.”

The BLM has been without a confirmed director since the Obama administration. Former President Donald Trump pulled controversial nominee William Perry Pendley last September. 

Strong leadership and setting a tone for the organization, is what Bob Abbey, a former director of the BLM, wants to see from Biden’s choice.

“She will need to hold others accountable for meeting the energy and recreational needs of our nation while at the same time, assuring the sustainability and ecological health of our nation’s most precious cultural and natural resources,” he said.

He added there are many challenges that await her, but he hopes Stone-Manning is determined to leave America’s public lands, and the BLM, “better off for her service.”

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