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Bureau of Land Management Director speaks about her love of protecting public lands

Tracy Stone-Manning is director of the Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Land Management
Tracy Stone-Manning is director of the Bureau of Land Management

Tracy Stone-Manning, the director of the Bureau of Land Management, loves the travel that her work requires and above all, loves working hard. She says the challenges in front of her and her 10,000 BLM colleagues are met best through hard work.

“It's what we do,” said Stone-Manning. “We take problems that come in front of us. We roll up our sleeves, we talk to our stakeholders and the communities in which we're engaged. And we thread needles.”

This week her travel schedule brought her to Idaho where she was a guest of the Andrus Center for Public Policy and the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists. She also sat down with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk, among other things, about how the Biden administration’s clean energy goals fit into the protection and preservation of public lands.

“I think the biggest threat to public lands for years to come is the changing landscape that we see as a result of climate change.”
Tracy Stone-Manning

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: Tracy Stone-Manning served as Montana's director of the Department of Environmental Quality, served with the National Wildlife Federation, and in 2021, President Biden asked her to become the director of the Bureau of Land Management. Home, when she's not in D.C., is Missoula. She spends an extraordinary amount of time on the road, including this week as the guest of the Cecil Andrus Center for Public Policy, and also this week, the annual Conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Director, good morning.


PRENTICE: I'm going to guess. I'm not the only person who would ask this: In 2023, what might be the biggest threat to public lands in our nation?

STONE-MANNING: I think the biggest threat to public lands for years to come is the changing landscape that we see as a result of climate change.You know, we've all seen it, right? We've seen the encroaching bigger, hotter, longer duration fires. And with that, things like cheatgrass. So, the landscape is changing and it's our job to make sure that we can make the our lands and waters as resilient as we can to weather that change and to restore as much of it as we can Now, through things like the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act, use that restoration funding to make our lands healthier and able to weather the changes that are on it.

PRENTICE: And do you have a sense of that needle moving, better or worse, month to month, year to year?

STONE-MANNING: I think it's an “it depends,” right? It's very localized. It depends on where you are. So, some places we do see degradation. Other places restoration is kicking in and we see the power of it. And there's one creek in Nevada, for example, called Dixie Creek. And people say Nevada's getting drier, but Dixie Creek is getting wetter, and Dixie Creek is getting wetter because of remarkable restoration work that went on through partnership on the ground with BLM and the cattle producer that uses that ground.

PRENTICE: I want to talk about clean energy goals for a couple of seconds. There's an ongoing conversation - some might call it a debate. How do clean energy goals fit into the protection and the preservation of public lands?

STONE-MANNING: So, we have a really important charge before us. President Biden and Secretary Haaland have asked us to build towards a clean energy future. We are in that building now and public lands can and should do their part. We have a goal of permitting 25GW of renewable energy by 2025. And to put that in perspective, 25GW is enough to power about 8 million homes.

PRENTICE: And to those who say “I love that generally, but maybe not across the street from me or across the road or maybe even in my community…”

STONE-MANNING: It’s hard work and it's what we do, right? We take problems that come in front of us. We roll up our sleeves, we talk to our stakeholders and the communities in which we're engaged. And we thread needles,And find the right and responsible balance for energy development that the country needs, that the future needs, while taking into account concerns for both people and wildlife.

PRENTICE: There's always a process, and public comment is part of that process. And to those folks… your message to them, as far as your confidence in that process would be what?

STONE-MANNING: We cannot do our work without the input of the American people. That public comment process is so important to our jobs, right? The public helps hone our thinking and helps us see some things that sometimes we miss. We can't do our job without the public.

PRENTICE: Boise in particular, Idaho in general, loves recreation. Can you talk about the balance of our passion for recreation, but also the responsibility that comes with that recreation in particular on those public lands?

STONE-MANNING: We can't love our public lands to death, right? And that's why the Bureau is I've asked the bureau to dig deep and think about a recreation strategy for the 21st century so that 30 and 40 years from now, people have the same or similar experiences that you and I get on our public lands today, that you can still find solace, that you can still find an elk to fill your freezer, that you can still make lifetime memories with your with your family. And that just takes really smart management and that's our job and we're going to do it.

PRENTICE: Do you find that balance is more natural for folks maybe under the age of 40? Do you know what I'm getting at?

STONE-MANNING: Keep going George….

PRENTICE: Well, I speak to a number. High schoolers and middle schoolers who absolutely get it about that balance. And as a matter of fact, their first comment might be about that responsibility and then the recreation. Do you know what I'm saying?

STONE-MANNING: I do. And it's why it's why we have hope for the future, right? Because there is a generation of people coming up who are growing up seeing the pressures on our public lands, understanding that balance is necessary, where some folks have had the incredible privilege and luxury of having it all to themselves. And none of us do anymore. And so our job is to manage for and through that.

PRENTICE: To that end, I'm going to guess you see great hope in that younger generation because they do get it.

STONE-MANNING: I do. I've had the good fortune of speaking to two classes. I'm going to be speaking to students at Boise State this week who are so committed and so smart and truly understand the incredible gift that is our public lands.

PRENTICE: Do you have a sense of why green energy has been politicized of late and some might even say weaponized?

STONE-MANNING: Look, change is hard, right? And renewable energy represents a change on the landscape. And change across the decades has created concern and backlash. But we have a responsibility to the future to ensure that that we drive down carbon pollution and that we ensure that these lands that are in our care are healthy as we pass them on to the future. And the way to do that is to get to a clean energy future.

PRENTICE: Do I have this right? Your degree from the University of Maryland College Park is in Radio, Television and Film.

STONE-MANNING: True story. I held a microphone in my hand.

PRENTICE: What might had you wanted to do back then?

STONE-MANNING: You know, young people ask me, “How did you do this? What was your career path like?” And I said, “Oh yeah, I didn't have one.”. And I you know, I followed my passions, right? And I thought I wanted to be a journalist. And then I slept outside for the first time when I was 18 years old. And I fell in love with the outdoors. And I realized that science was going to be what we needed to ensure that the outdoors were protected, but that science perhaps needed some translating. So, I stuck with my communications degree in order to be able to talk about these issues in my career.

PRENTICE: Well, then I'm struck that you're going to be spending some time with environmental journalists here. This is a very interesting intersection for you.

STONE-MANNING: Like how rivers are round, like lives tend to be round, too, don't they?

PRENTICE: So, what's the message to my brethren this week?

STONE-MANNING: We need you. We need you telling the story of the need on the landscape. We need you telling the science of the story. And the long form is a little lost in our culture right now. And yet the long form journalism helps really imbue story with facts. And story itself is so important. People's connection to these lands are incredible. And it's all those stories added together, ending up being this shared value for this shared place called public lands. And it's that value, that shared value, that is ultimately going to make us successful.

PRENTICE: What is your schedule look like? Not just this week, but is it just ridiculous?

STONE-MANNING: I work all the time and I love it. It's an incredible privilege.

PRENTICE: You love to travel?

STONE-MANNING: It's just an incredible privilege to do this work on behalf of the people I work for at the BLM. The BLM has 10,000 employees and they all work so hard, and they're so committed to this really beautiful mission that we have to provide for multiple uses, right. And to provide for future generations. They work really hard. So, I'm buoyed by the fact that my job is to run downfield for them.

PRENTICE: Tracy Stone-Manning, thank you so much for coming to Idaho and giving us a few minutes this morning.

STONE-MANNING: A real pleasure. Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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