If you are Tracy Stone-Manning, a person who is passionate about public service and who has spent the past 20 years helping to solve some of the state’s most daunting environmental problems, there is no hesitation about what to do when Montana’s CEO calls and asks for help.

“When the governor asks, ‘Will you consider being director of environmental quality,’ my response is a deep and heartfelt yes,” Stone-Manning said late last week.

“I believe deeply in public service, and this position will let me take what I’ve learned in doing conservation work, take what I’ve learned at the federal level through Sen. Jon Tester’s office and apply it to the state.

“The Department of Environmental Quality has a beautiful mission: to protect, sustain and improve a clean and healthful environment to benefit present and future generations,” she said. “It’s a daunting mission and an incredible honor to be asked to do that.”

Having sold her home in Missoula and relocated into a newly purchased home in Helena, Stone-Manning is eager for the work ahead as director of DEQ.

Like all of Bullock’s appointees, Stone-Manning’s job will begin in earnest once the Montana Senate confirms Gov. Steve Bullock’s appointments as executive branch agency directors.

Committee chairs are working to schedule dates for confirmation hearings, which are expected to begin in early March, said Brock Lowrance, Senate majority communications director.

In advance of the hearings, each candidate for confirmation must complete an application with a uniform set of questions regarding things like work history and interest in the job.

However, after the review forms were sent out in January a question was added on Feb. 8, asking candidates if they ever have been charged with committing a crime.

The question is curious for several reasons, not only because it was added late in the process, but also because candidates have not been asked that before, said Kevin O’Brien, Bullock’s spokesperson.

In response, Lowrance explained that the process – including the criminal history question – is intended to better clarify how an individual will lead an agency.

“The purpose of the confirmation process is to learn about the candidates,” he said, “and to ensure legislators, and members of the public, have the opportunity to ask questions and address any concerns they might have.”

Although Lowrance would not specifically comment on any concern about Stone-Manning, she can’t help but wonder if the legal question is directed at her, and her unusual experience with a tree-spiking incident 24 years ago when she was a student in the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies Department in 1989.

It’s an event that federal investigators and a court determined she was not involved with, and one in which she later became a material witness for federal authorities, helping to convict and send to prison the person responsible for the crime.

It’s a story she’s willingly shared before with reporters, in federal court, and with Bullock when she was offered the job as DEQ director.

It goes like this:

***

In the late 1980s, Tracy Stone-Manning was on her way to class at UM one day when a man named John Blount walked up to her and handed her a letter written to the U.S. Forest Service and asked her to mail it because he didn’t have a stamp.

Blount then explained the letter was notification to the agency that trees had been spiked in the Post Office timber sale on the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.

“This guy wasn’t a student, he was just sort of hanging around and showing off,” Stone-Manning said. “I did not trust he would notify the Forest Service if the letter was not sent.

“But now my fingerprints were all over it. The easy thing to do would have been to burn that letter and walk away and not be associated with it, but that was the wrong thing to do because trees were spiked and somebody could be hurt when the loggers were sent in.

“So I mailed the letter.”

In the following months, Stone-Manning along with several UM students and environmental studies professor Ron Erickson, who later served in the Legislature, were part of the government’s grand jury investigation.

No charges were filed and Blount was known to have disappeared with a stolen shotgun, threatening anyone who would turn him in.

A few years later, in 1993, Blount’s common-law wife Guenevere Lilburn called Stone-Manning out of the blue, and explained Blount was in jail because he had severely beat her and stolen their child. Lilburn explained she was panicked because Blount would soon be released, and she wanted him to remain behind bars.

“She knew everything about the tree-spiking story and she knew if she told everything that could keep him in jail,” Stone-Manning said. “She asked if I would testify, and I said yes, and he went to jail.”

Needless to say, the incident was a formative experience, Stone-Manning said.

“What Blount did was incredibly stupid; the (Post Office) sale hadn’t even been appealed. There’s a process to voice concerns and he didn’t even do that – he went straight to an anger-based place.”

The incident, while unsettling, helped launch Stone-Manning’s communication style, one of trust-building and respect, and her consensus-driven approach to conservation and environmental challenges.

And she said it put into focus a deep truth: Change for the better happens based on fact-based discussions held by diverse people with diverse opinions working toward a solution.

“The more an issue becomes a community-wide issue, collaboration happens and it is more likely there will be success,” Stone-Manning said. “The more we approach conservation and environmental issues with the understanding that they are based in culture and our economy, the more they merge together, the better we will be for society.”

***

It’s a truth that played out over time and through her professional experience leading Missoula’s Five Valleys Land Trust, the Clark Fork Coalition and then working as Tester’s natural resources director.

“The wolf issue is a good example,” she said. “Delisting the wolf was the right thing to. When that issue came up, I was Tester’s natural resources director in the state.”

“Wolves were reintroduced with a plan in the 1990s, and we met recovery,” Stone-Manning said.

“The environmental community should have been popping champagne because it brought an animal back from the endangered species list, and the Endangered Species Act is a relatively new law, so it hasn’t had many success.

“The environmental community should have said job well done, let’s get on the next thing, but instead they sued, making it a political issue,” she said. “Now, because the environmental community sued, the backlash is so big many people are calling for wolves to not only be delisted but to be removed from endangered species purview period.”

Gov. Bullock said he is looking forward to watching Stone-Manning apply her skills at DEQ, and commented: “I know Tracy will work to make sure DEQ is doing right by everyone who values and prospers from Montana’s land and water.”

“Tracy is a proven consensus builder who is abundantly qualified to serve in this important post,” he said. “Whether it’s working to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list, building a coalition to create jobs by restoring the Clark Fork or bringing the timber industry and wilderness advocates together to mandate forest restoration and timber harvest, Tracy has proven herself to be a highly qualified and talented leader.

“Tracy shares my belief that we can create jobs and build our rural economies through responsible development of coal, oil, gas, wind, hydro, biofuels and geothermal energy.”

Stone-Manning said her immediate job is to be mindful of how best to use her time now, when her perspective is new.

She will be looking closely at basic things, such as planning, what are the department’s goals and obstacles, what more can be done and how to do things better.

“One thing we don’t do is tell our story,” Stone-Manning said. “At DEQ we are known as regulators. Half the agency is in permitting and compliance.”

“We write permitting, we regulate industry and this is often frowned upon – yet it is an incredibly important job,” she said. “If the Legislature adopts laws, somebody has to implement those laws, and that’s what we do.

“We want to do it efficiently and fairly and with some level of predictability – and we do a lot of wonderful things for the state of Montana that regular folks don’t know about.”

For instance, the restoration of the Upper Clark Fork River will begin in coming months and toxic sediments will be removed from the floodplain.

“That’s an exciting story about putting the river back together – and a story worth telling,” Stone-Manning said.

One of the biggest stories – and challenges – DEQ is keeping an eye on revolves around the Otter Creek coal development on the Montana-Wyoming border.

“My job is make sure we get the science right, we get the law right, that the process is as transparent as possible, and we engage the public as much as possible,” Stone-Manning said. “It’s a large decision the state will make, and people should know why – and should feel they are part of that decision.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

(23) comments

Dave Skinner
Dave Skinner

Stone-Manning was complicit. She could have put the letter in an envelope with an explanatory letter and put the hood away but did not. It wasn't until four years later when the "wife" wants to be kept safe from her freak "husband" that anything starts. Never mind she's a product of Ron Erickson's "school" that has inflicted more damage upon Montana's economy and environment than anyone can count.
This is puffery.

Drummer
Drummer

I feel it is suspicious that Stone-Manning was asked to mail a letter by a tree spiker and is innocent. What is the whole story? We should have a say about her appointment, after all we will be the victims. I know this much, when approached while working for Tester, she twisted facts and was very militant when I was concerned about Tester's Wilderness Bill. She was insulting and unwilling to talk to me...just at me. She needs to take a course in Public Relations. Further, is she connected to the Blackfoot Challenge Group in any way? There is no question she is a radical environmentalist and will promote the Pretender in Washington's Agenda 21.

sofaking tired of the GOP
sofaking tired of the GOP

Yes that radical Blackfoot Challenge Group has protected their most valuable resource and has not seen elk numbers crash like the Bitterroot. Missoula to Darby will be one contiguous town in another 10-20 years. Shame on the Blackfoot for not wanting to turn their valley into one solid suburb.

J555-5
J555-5

Some here have mentioned UM's Environmental Sciences Dept. It's Environmental Studies. No science required.

hellgatenights
hellgatenights

My point! Simple......same tactics we read about from the Federal EPA......bullying, harrassment, law breaking non-elected officials spoiling the pleasure and economic value of property owners. Big Red is the state version, and we all know about our local version of water rats.

Solution?? Simple......end funding, eliminate the entire local department and correct the heavy handed state baffoons.

hellgatenights
hellgatenights

Ms. Manning, do not by so MODEST.........do take credit for the the punishment and harassment you indirectly inflicted on the Miller's ranch in Lolo. We all read and watched in horror as these people were attacked my a fat head county attorney who lied about a an environmental report from our own local DEQ. The attorney used his bully pulpit to force the Millers into submission, not compliance. The attorney stated the report contained dire warnings on water contamination to the river........not true, this is NOT in the report and the slob reporter did not bother to read it as well.

Read the report yourself........it is public information. Then ask the attorney for a little clarification on his dramatized remarks.

Second Amendment
Second Amendment

Any doubt about the new Governor's intentions? Look also to his natural resources advisor, Tim Baker, prior head of the Montana Wilderness Association and said to be the architect of Tester's wilderness agenda. It won't get cut, drilled or dug for at least the next four years.

Dub
Dub

I have talked to people that know her and she is a true radical enviro but is smart enough to jump on the wolf issue that the vast majority of Montanans (not Missoulian's) believe in. This is a safe haven to hide her extreme positions but watch out when other drilling, mining and any other natural resource extraction needs her approval. She is a very strong supporter of Tester/Baucus's Wilderness bill and thinks the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act is necessary to keep the pesky ranchers who have protected the front for generations out. It is apparent that Bullock is, as predicted, hand picking people that are far to the left of Montanans.

Second Amendment
Second Amendment

Hmm, why would the feds have her fingerprints on file???

More reporting, less repeating please.

DVanVorous
DVanVorous

Pretty obvious for 2 reasons.

1. Foremost it was a FED USFS sale going thru the USPS so it had to be investigated by the FBI.

2. Quoting from the article, "In the following months, Stone-Manning along with several UM students and environmental studies professor Ron Erickson, who later served in the Legislature, were part of the government’s grand jury investigation." She testified so her prints were taken to corroborate the story.

Its not that an uncommon occurrence to have them on file with the FBI, if you get a CCW you have the pleasure of your prints being on file, ditto if you happen to have been in the military or had-have a FED/state clearance of some form.; i.e. loosen the tin foil hat son.

jima
jima

She is beholden to Washington Group/enviroCON for her selection as director of this captured agency. Her cooperation (collusion?) on the Milltown project assured her of this career advancement. With the upcoming 'clean up' in Frenchtown, they need to be assured of obtaining lead contractor status.

fomerliberal
fomerliberal

You can bet your bottom dollar she will everything in here power to make sure NEW oil, coal and gas exploration and production in MT is slowed to a crawl.

rosett
rosett

The thing I'm wondering about in this story is: How can they ask if a person has ever been CHARGED with a crime? In our legal system, the presumption is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. She was acquitted of any wrong doing, and does not have a criminal record! To judge a person on their (non) record is unconstitutional, and just another petty political trick. If we let our legislature strip people of their constitutional rights because we don't agree with their politics, we are opening the door for the stripping of all of our rights.

BobbyLee
BobbyLee

- "I believe deeply in public service."

On a 6 figure salary, health insurance and bennies, I'll bet you do!

It surely isn't a coincidence that the term "public service" has been hijacked by politicians and a host of city, state and federal government desk jockeys.

Would they believe equally deeply in public service if they had to volunteer? Like many people do frequently. What about the real servicemen and women in the Armed Forces? The Police and Firemen? Those on the front line earning a pittance on risk of health? That is public service. Anything else is just a job and hijacking "pubic service" degrades those who actually do serve, and do so for a lot less silver lining and prestige.

Second Amendment
Second Amendment

Is this piece a press release or a news story?

Yeah sure, I'm believing that letter story.

The Legislature better not pre-spend any resource revenue with this lady in charge of DEQ.

Be afraid of any woman with two last names.

Long Duck Dong
Long Duck Dong

"Be afraid of any woman with two last names"
LMAO!

capnbutch2000
capnbutch2000

A strange story indeed! Writer Betsy Cohen is usually far more clear about these things. She leaves this one looking like environmental extremists judging other environmental extremists.

In the past DEQ has showed itself ill equipped to address issues of science. Even the University of Montana environmental sciences department is refusing to teach basic concepts like chemical persistence. We need to know for sure that science, not politics is what DEQ does. Perhaps Stone-Manning has expertise in the sciences. Perhaps not.

We certainly deserve to know without this odd diversion story to take us away from our concerns about DEQ and Stone-Manning.

Roger
Roger

At least she seems to have a sensible position on wolves - but I hope she's not just saying that to show that she's not biased. The letter incident seems kind of bizarre, but the guy who gave her it is probably a nut. She was naive to mail it with her fingerprints all over it, though.

Sukey
Sukey

Doesn't make sense. Why would the tree spiker need Manning to mail the letter? Why didn't he do it himself? Why would he ask her or even know her? Something smells very much like extreme environmentalism and her association with these people.

Longhorn Fan
Longhorn Fan

Whose DNA was prominent? The gal's or the guy's-- the guy who disappeared so that he couldn't be found. And he didn't need to have known her either. He was on the campus to find someone to do his dirty work and lo and behold there appeared a young female student, the likely candidate-- isn't that just like a male to have a female to do his dirty work. What smells is the typical male MOS of getting a young female to do his dirty work.

DoItRight
DoItRight

DNA?
This was 25 years ago!

Longhorn Fan
Longhorn Fan

"Forensic use of DNA technology in criminal cases began in 1986". If my calculator can do arithmetic, 1986 was 27 years ago.

Roger
Roger

If she's dumb enough to do it, whose fault is that? You're a typical feminist whiner - blaming males for the problems of women. How about women begin meeting the same standards as men in jobs, the military, etc, and forego the special treatment females sometimes receive? How about women being sentenced the same as men for similar crimes, instead of receiving significantly lighter sentences? I'm quite certain you would not like that at all.

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