Humans on the Land: Stewardship vs. Abandonment at the Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management is considering a rule that would lock Americans out of up to 10% of the nation’s land.

The BLM exists to manage public lands and their resource values so they are used to “best meet the present and future needs of the American people.” A new lease type would allow ideologues to claim land for disuse. By redefining non-use as a “primary purpose” under the Federal Register, the BLM wants to offer “conservation leases” to ideological bidders. Never before has public land been available to lease for abandonment.

Ranchers, loggers, and other blue collar Americans say this proposal threatens their way of life. This government is signaling that it sees ideal stewardship as anti-human political activism, not the people who live with and by nature.

President Joe Biden signaled as much when he appointed as BLM director an extremist once investigated by the federal government for eco-terrorism.

Earth First banner in the Middle Santiam. Earth First! 5, no. 6. Photograph by Jacqueline Moreau.

Activist in Chief?

Tracy Stone-Manning was a spokesperson for the eco-terrorist group Earth First back in the 1980s. This is the group responsible for sabotaging the Aspen gas pipeline in December 2020, cutting off heat for 3500 residents in the dead of winter. Earth First members have torched a ski resort lift, sabotaged a uranium mine, and attempted to cut power lines, all of which they declared were “dress rehearsals for attacks on nuclear plants.”

The group’s most infamous tactic of persuasion was tree spiking: driving a nail or metal rod into a tree so as to make timber harvesting lethally dangerous. A logger sawing into a spiked tree might find his chainsaw shattered, metal shards flying.

In 1989, Ms. Stone-Manning sent a threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service warning that someone had spiked trees in Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.

Her letter concluded: “You bastards go in there anyway and a lot of people could get hurt.”

Tracy Stone-Manning at her Senate confirmation hearing. Screenshot | The Hill

During the subsequent federal investigation, Ms. Stone-Manning received immunity in exchange for testifying against two of her fellow Earth First members, both of whom were convicted.

U.S. Forest Service criminal investigator Michael Merkley wrote at the time: “Ms. Stone-Manning was extremely difficult to work with; in fact, she was the nastiest of the suspects. She was vulgar, antagonistic, and extremely anti-government.”

Ms. Stone-Manning has maintained that her role was peripheral; she only re-typed the letter, and did it merely to notify authorities. But John Barrasso, a retired Forest Service investigator in Wyoming, disagrees. He said she “was an active member of the original group that planned the spiking.” And Mr. Merkley quoted a witness who “recounted a conversation she had overheard wherein Ms. Stone-Manning along with other co-conspirators planned the tree-spiking and discussed whether to use ceramic or metal spikes in the trees.”

Credit: Orin Langelle

Tree Spiking Goes to Washington

During the Senate confirmation hearing for her appointment as BLM head by President Biden, Ms. Stone-Manning was asked whether she had ever been the target of a government investigation. She answered no.

Michael Merkley wrote a letter to the Senate Energy Committee claiming Ms. Stone-Manning lied under oath; she knew she was under criminal investigation during the 1989 incident. He also expressed his fear in coming forward to the committee because of the death threats he has received from Earth First members.

Mike Lee, Senator from Utah, told FOX News that Ms. Stone-Manning’s actions supported terrorists by “conspiring with criminals to make vile threads. She also lied to the Senate about her involvement with that. She’s not fit to run the Bureau of Land Management.”

Bob Abbey, director of the BLM under President Barack Obama, also opposed her nomination. “As a 30-year BLM career employee, I don’t take her actions lightly, nor should anyone else,” Mr. Abbey stated. “If Stone-Manning participated in any aspect of planning, implementation, or cover-up in the spiking of trees, then she should not be confirmed.”

It is shocking that President Biden gave a woman who has proven her willingness to harm American workers power over their livelihoods. Regardless, Senate Democrats voted to confirm.

From Partner to Police

In keeping with her radical roots, Ms. Stone-Manning immediately set out to redefine her role from resource manager to dictator of public lands. One of her first acts as BLM head was to demand greater oversight of grazing leases, and the right to pull contracts at will.

The BLM controls 50 million acres of grazing rights. Cattle have traditionally been viewed as crucial to the economy and culture of the American West; part of its landscape and management.

Now, a California-style “land health assessment” will use bogus analysis to stop land use based on perceived environmental threats. Ranchers wouldn’t be able to do their jobs under the looming threat of stripped grazing rights from a radicalized Bureau. If a pop land health test finds that a rancher’s grazing plot or an oil and gas lease is not sufficiently “climate resilient” by any vague method they chose to apply, the lessee may see their rights suddenly pulled and handed to an environmental group.

This new approach would threaten energy independence, empower foreign dictatorships, and increase the costs of just about everything for American consumers. Americans will feel this in consumer prices, foreign policy, recreation access, and even the number of natural disasters. In California alone, cattle remove 8 million pounds of biomass from the ecosystem every year—the largest fuel management program in the state. Allowing more untended brush on public land will result in more forest fires.

The Future of Conservation: Stewardship or Abandonment?

Environmental extremists who once blew up pipelines and spiked trees now issue decrees from seats of power in Washington. Through the years, one steady intention: end the livelihoods of blue collar Americans—loggers, miners, ranchers—who they consider not resource managers but usurpers.

For today’s federal government, conservation is not the productive, judicious use of shared resources. Conservation is abandonment. Discarding the agency’s true purpose (the allocation and management of America’s natural resources for citizens) the BLM is proposing to sell American grasslands, forests, minerals, and waterways to the highest bidders. Ideologues often have deeper pockets and worse ideas than their working class competition.

Times Have Changed

For decades, many Western Americans have argued to abolish the BLM. Although originally an institution designed to serve all Americans, recent evidence of ideological capture strengthens the argument for its retirement. If the BLM cannot serve Americans according to its intended purpose, it does not deserve public trust or power over the precious lands and resources we share as an American community.

Politicians tokenize working Americans, but enact policies designed to wash the West of its traditional industries and appoint officials who despise tradesmen. Washington pays lip service to ranchers and workers but guts their livelihoods. This government does not see its role as serving the people, but controlling them.

The comment period on this proposed rule has been extended to Wednesday, July 5, 2023. You can express your opinion on the rule here.

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