One of the men convicted in a 1989 ecoterrorism crime has stated that Tracy Stone-Manning, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was an active accomplice in his crime who knew about it “far in advance.”
John P. Blount, who spiked trees in Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest in 1989 and was later sentenced to 17 months in prison for it, said Stone-Manning was complicit in his act of ecoterrorism, E&E News reported Thursday.
“She knew about it far in advance, a couple of months before we headed out,” Blount said, according to the outlet.
Stone-Manning belonged to the environmental extremist group Earth First! — members of which committed acts of ecoterrorism during the 1980s and 1990s — while she was a graduate student at the University of Montana in Missoula.
In 1989, while in graduate school, Stone-Manning mailed a profane letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of Blount, alerting authorities that trees in the Idaho forest that were scheduled to be cut down had been sabotaged with metal spikes to prevent them from being harvested. Tree spiking, as this form of sabotage is called, is both a crime, and according to the FBI’s definition, an act of ecoterrorism that can damage or destroy expensive logging equipment and injure or kill loggers or millworkers processing the spiked trees.
After the Forest Service received the warning letter, Stone-Manning and six other individuals in Missoula were the target of a 1989 grand jury investigation for which they were subpoenaed and required to submit fingerprints, as well as handwriting and hair samples. The grand jury did not uncover enough evidence from its investigation to charge Blount with a crime, but Blount’s ex-wife reported him to authorities two years later, and in doing so, also named Stone-Manning as the person who mailed the tree spiking letter for him. In exchange for immunity, Stone-Manning testified in a 1993 trial against Blount, and he was later convicted of the crime.
Blount’s recent comments about Stone-Manning came before retired Forest Service criminal investigator Michael Merkley, the special agent in charge of investigating the case in 1989, wrote an accusing letter Wednesday to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the nominee.
Merkley in his letter charged that Stone-Manning “was not an innocent bystander” in the crime but instead helped in the planning process and allowed the crime to be carried out and remain unsolved for four years before coming forward in exchange for immunity.
Blount’s account was slightly varied from Merkley’s. While his charges about Stone-Manning’s complicity were in sync with those of Merkley’s, Blount said Stone-Manning was not “heavily” involved in the planning and in the actual spiking of the trees; however, he claimed that she had a central and “agreed-upon” role in the operation as the letter deliverer.
“Was she heavily involved in the planning? Did she go put a nail in a tree or anything? Absolutely not,” he said, adding that Stone-Manning “had agreed to mail the letter well in advance [of the tree spiking happening].”
Blount said, “She was supposed to mail the letter from Billings where she had planned on going in two or three more days, so that it wasn’t postmarked ‘Missoula.’ … That was the agreed-upon plan.”
Stone-Manning on her Senate committee hearing questionnaire in May falsely claimed that she had never been the target of a federal investigation and that the tree spiking crime was merely an “alleged” crime. The nominee responded to follow-up questions from the committee related to the case, alleging that she did not recall ever speaking to Blount ahead of receiving the letter and maintaining — as she has in past testimonies during her career — that she decided to mail the letter because she did not want anyone to get hurt.
Ranking member Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and all his Republican colleagues on the committee called on Biden to withdraw her nomination in a joint letter Wednesday.
Barrasso said in a statement, “Not only did Tracy Stone-Manning collaborate with eco-terrorists, she also helped plan the tree spiking in Clearwater National Forest. She has been covering up these actions for decades, including on her sworn affidavit to the committee. … President Biden must withdraw her nomination and if he does not, the Senate must vote it down.”
Committee chair Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who is frequently a critical swing vote in a Senate that is divided 50–50, has remained silent about Stone-Manning’s nomination despite multiple requests for comment.
Write to Ashley Oliver at [email protected].