Can the BLM be Fixed? Tracy Stone-Manning Takes the Helm of a Broken Agency

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“After a contentious confirmation fight in the Senate, Tracy Stone-Manning has been confirmed to become the Director of the Bureau of Land Management. This will be the first time the agency has a properly-confirmed Director since the Obama administration. Under Trump, the agency was headed by a series of temporary stand-ins, including the public-lands-selloff activist William Perry Pendley who so overstayed the legally available term limits for an Acting Director that he was removed by the courts. Stone-Manning inherits an agency wracked by longstanding incompetence and corruption, held captive by the commercial industries it is tasked with regulating, and with a long habit of ignoring the public interest it is legally obligated to serve.

Commercial livestock have been a dominant use of western public lands, and the most widespread cause of environmental degradation. Public Employees for Environmental responsibility published a map showing grazing leases still failing Rangeland Health standards. In response, the agency started lumping grazing allotments “meeting” Rangeland Health standards together with those “not meeting, but moving toward” standards, to make it impossible to see how much public land is failing land-health standards. This agency habitually authorizes livestock producers to graze off 50 to 60 percent of the land’s annual grass production, a level of overgrazing far exceeding the 30 percent maximum prescribed for arid lands in basic range management textbooks. This chronic abuse of the public lands doesn’t just impair public recreation, it destroys spawning habitat for trout and salmon, contributing to Endangered Species Act listings for bull trout, chinook and coho salmon, and Lahontan cutthroat trout populations. It is the single greatest cause of sage-grouse population declines on the majority of western public lands where industrial-scale mining and drilling isn’t taking place. This overgrazing is the single biggest factor responsible for the epidemic of the invasive weed cheatgrass, which leads to massive wildfires, sagebrush habitat loss, destruction of wildlife habitat effectiveness, and turning western rangelands from an important source of carbon storage to a net carbon emitter into the atmosphere. Will Stone-Manning have what it takes to give the agency’s livestock program the massive overhaul required to restore healthy native ecosystems?”