Former investigator describes Tracy Stone-Manning as 'vulgar, antagonistic' member of Earth First! extremist group

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Last month I wrote about Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management. Tracy Stone-Manning has a pretty extremist history. In 1992 she wrote a thesis arguing for population control to protect the environment. Her paper included a sample advertisement which described a toddler as “the environmental hazard in this photo.” But it’s another part of her past that has attracted the most attention.

In 1989, Stone-Manning was a member of the extremist environmental group Earth First! Members of the group drove 10″ spikes in hundreds of trees as a way to prevent the from being cut down. Stone-Manning claims she merely agreed to re-type a letter about the spiking which she sent to the US Forest Service to warn them. The letter concluded with a warning, “P.S., You bastards go in there anyway and a lot of people could get hurt.” A graduate student named John Blount was later convicted of the crime and got 17 months in prison. Stone-Manning was given a pass because she agreed to testify against him.

But yesterday the lead investigator in that case, Michael Merkley, who is now retired, sent a letter to the Senate Energy Committee seeking to correct the record about some of the coverage he’s seen in the media.

“She was aware that she was being investigated in 1989 and again in 1993 when she agreed to the immunity deal with the government to avoid criminal felony prosecution,” Merkley wrote in a letter obtained by the committee and shared with POLITICO.

When asked if she had ever been the target of an investigation, arrested or charged with a crime in her official Senate committee questionnaire from earlier this year, Stone-Manning had answered “no.” The designation of target is generally reserved for individuals for whom an investigation finds substantive evidence of their committing a crime.

So there’s some splitting of hairs here. She wasn’t a “target,” at least not by the time she became a witness against the two men who’d actually spiked the trees. But she was part of the investigation. And according to Merkley, she was the least pleasant of all the Earth First! people he dealt with:

“Contrary to many stories in the news, Ms. Stone-Manning was not an innocent bystander, nor was she a victim in this case,” Merkley wrote. “And, she most certainly was not a hero. Ms. Stone-Manning was not only a member of Earth First!, but she played an active role in the Earth First! hierarchy.”

Later in the letter, Merkley detailed his experience working with Stone-Manning during the investigation, calling her the “nastiest of the suspects.”

“She was vulgar, antagonistic and extremely anti-government. She was very uncooperative and refused to provide the hair, hand writing exemplars, and fingerprints as ordered by the federal grand jury,” Merkley said. “It was not until after we informed her that she would be arrested if she did not comply with the subpoena that she reluctantly provided those samples to me. However, she refused to answer any of my other questions.”

Merkley said he eventually learned later in the investigation that Stone-Manning knew all along “who had perpetrated the crimes in the Clearwater National Forest” and said she only came forward in 1993 to give up her co-conspirators in the tree-spiking case “after her attorney struck the immunity deal, and not before she was caught.” He continued, “At no time did she come forward of her own volition, and she was never entirely forthcoming.”

So rather than being a cooperative witness who turned on her friends because of their extremism, Stone-Manning kept her mouth shut to protect her friends until she was facing jail herself.

And just to point out the kind of people we’re talking about, Merkley’s letter goes on to say that he retired early in 1997 because he was getting death threats from Earth First! In fact, he was told they had solicited someone to kill him and his family. If Stone-Manning was the “nastiest” member of that crowd, that’s really saying something.

The Biden administration continues to support her nomination to lead the Bureau of Land Management. The Senate Energy Committee is even split between Democrats and Republicans. If a 50-50 split develops, Democrats can still force a vote of the full Senate in which VP Harris could push the nomination through. However, that assumes no Democrat decides to back away from Stone-Manning. Joe Manchin is the Democratic chair of the Energy Committee and, so far, he hasn’t said anything about the letter.