Q&A: Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning
The director of millions of acres of public land across the nation discusses her confirmation process, improving hunting access, invasive species, and more
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) boss Tracy Stone-Manning took the helm in September 2021 as the agency’s 19th director. The BLM is charged with managing 245 million acres of public land across the nation—more land than any other government agency. Millions of public land hunters and anglers rely on BLM land for their outdoor pursuits. What Stone-Manning does in her role has the potential to directly impact the outdoor pursuits you care most about.
F&S contributing writer Kris Millgate recently sat down with Stone-Manning for a one-on-one interview in Casper, Wyoming. Stone-Manning discussed the controversy surrounding her confirmation. Though she garnered the support of dozens of pro-hunting conservation organizations, many in the community opposed her nomination because of her association with people involved in a tree-spiking incident. Beyond that, Stone-Manning talked about how she’s adapting to her role, hunting, managing invasive critters on public land, and more.
What do the BLM’s 245 million acres of multi-use public lands mean to you and how do you use them?
I’m a hiker and a hunter. I hunt big game like elk and deer, mostly mule deer. Public lands for me, like many people in the West, got me through the pandemic. I was so grateful that I had the ability to be outside and in nature and leave the worry and fear behind me. I go to public lands for solace and fun.
Will you return to your home state of Montana to hunt while you are the director?
I am going to do my darndest to come home and hunt while I’m in this position. I love food, and the best food on the planet is protein from the landscape. If I don’t shoot anything, I’ve found a local purveyor of grass-fed beef that will do. But there’s nothing quite like an elk steak or venison.
Is it strange to be working in Washington D.C. when most BLM land is in the West?
Spending time in D.C. is critical to my role, but I miss the West incredibly. I’m grateful to be able to do this work, but every day I miss home. The landscape of the West feeds my soul, and I sure do miss it.
What’s the one thing that frustrates you the most about how the BLM operates?
I’m typically a patient person, but because the work in front of us is so big and important, I’ve become impatient about the pace at which things move.
Your history of being a part of an extremist environmental group that participated in tree-spiking made some in the hunting and fishing community oppose your nomination. Were those concerns legitimate?
What happened in my confirmation process was all about politics. The person they were describing was a person I didn’t recognize nor did the people who knew me and worked with me across 30 years. It was the first time that I thought, I’m really glad mom and dad are dead so they didn’t have to see a person they don’t recognize. But that’s all behind us. Now, we’re just focused on doing the work. I’m going to use the 30 years of [experience in] my career of listening to people, collaborating, doing hard work, and rolling up the sleeves to get stuff done. We will show folks [that those concerns aren’t legitimate] instead of telling them.
Where is climate change on the BLM’s priority list?
We think about it every day. It’s right in our faces. We’re in the worst drought we’ve had in 1,200 years in the Southwest. New Mexico is seeing the biggest fire it has ever had in its history. The drought map across the West is way redder than anybody wants it to be. The landscape is changing before our very eyes, so it’s our job as land managers to think really smartly about what climate resilience is and how to build it into the landscape.
What solutions do you hope to implement to limit the impact of invasive critters, including hot-button issues like feral horses and burros, on BLM land?
We tackle those hot-button issues by keeping laser-focused on what we’re trying to solve for—and that is a healthy landscape. The wild horse and burro issue is really tough because they’re not native to this landscape. They don’t have natural predators. If we don’t gather some of them and take them off the landscape and use fertility treatments to control their numbers, those herds can double in size every four years. We can’t let that happen for the landscape, and my gosh, we can’t let that happen for the horses themselves. In some herds, there are literally horses starving to death. It’s really hard work to explain it to the public, but it really does make sense to gather these animals and put them in private ownership. That is the path forward.
What are you doing to increase hunting and fishing access on BLM land?
I’m super excited about increasing access to BLM lands. The American public has spoken. We’ve got a priority list, and we crowdsourced it. We went to the public and said, ‘Tell us what you think.’ We now have a priority list that we can use for those Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to open access to inaccessible BLM parcels.
The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act of 2019 mandates the BLM to ask the public every two years for the next decade to nominate public land parcels with no access opened. The public’s nominations will populate a searchable database online. During the 2020 solicitation, BLM received more than 6,000 nominations. Other agencies received only a handful. Nearly 3,000 nominations sent to the BLM passed feasibility evaluations. If access to all those landlocked parcels opens with the help of the Land and Water Conservation Funds, you will soon have an additional 3.5 million acres to hunt and fish in 13 Western states.
The interview has been edited for clarity and concision.