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EXCLUSIVE: Convicted Eco-Saboteur Disputes Biden Land Management Nominee’s Characterization Of Their Relationship

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Andrew Kerr Investigative Reporter
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  • The ringleader of a 1989 eco-sabotage incident said he resents the way Bureau of Land Management nominee Tracy Stone-Manning describes their relationship.
  • Stone-Manning sent an anonymous and threatening letter to the Forest Service on behalf of John Blount in 1989 warning that the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho had been sabotaged with tree spikes and was unsafe to log.
  • “I knew who Tracy was. Didn’t know her well. She liked the way I kissed,” Blount told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “I don’t see the horrifying menacing part.”
  • Blount said he shared meals at least three times with Stone-Manning and a man he described as her then-boyfriend, John Lilburn, at their single bedroom apartment before he committed his crime. 
  • Stone-Manning later served as a spokeswoman for an Earth First tree-sitting action that John Lilburn described as a payback to the authorities for their investigation into the tree spiking incident.

The ringleader of a 1989 eco-terrorism incident said he resents how Bureau of Land Management nominee Tracy Stone Manning described him as a “rather disturbed” and “frankly, frightening” person who had asked her to send an anonymous, threatening letter notifying federal authorities of his crime.

John Blount, who was sentenced in 1993 to 17 months in prison for organizing and carrying out the tree spiking sabotage of the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, said he was on friendly terms with Stone-Manning before he planned the crime. Blount said Stone-Manning had agreed before any trees were spiked that she would send a letter to the Forest Service after the crime was committed warning that the site had been made unsafe to log.

“I knew who Tracy was. Didn’t know her well. She liked the way I kissed,” Blount told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “I don’t see the horrifying menacing part.”

Blount said he made out with Stone-Manning in the late 1980s at a party at the Sherwood House, a shared residence and “contact house” for a number of Missoula-based Earth First activists. Blount said his brief tryst with Stone-Manning came before he started planning his tree spiking plot, and he stressed it was nothing more than a spur-of-the-moment type of thing that tends to happen at college parties.

“College kids, sometimes,” Blount said. “Yeah, it’s fun to neck with somebody, whatever they call it these days.”

“I remember kissing. I remember a lot of other people being around,” Blount recalled. “I remember her telling several other people that I had gone to the party with: ‘I like the way he kisses.'”

“It’s kind of a funny thing,” Blount added, saying it’s incompatible with Stone-Manning’s characterization that he was a disturbing and terrifying individual.

Blount said Stone-Manning lived at the Sherwood House when the two made out. Later, he said, Stone-Manning moved into a single-bedroom apartment with John Lilburn, another member of the Missoula-based Earth First activist community known as Wild Rockies Earth First.

Blount said he shared meals with Stone-Manning and John Lilburn at their apartment on three occasions before he began planning the tree spiking plot.

“Once they moved in together, these people were in a relationship,” Blount said of Stone-Manning and John Lilburn. “They moved in together in their own home, one bedroom. You can pretty well assume that’s a relationship of some sort.”

John Lilburn told the DCNF in an email that Blount’s claims about him living with and being in a relationship with Stone-Manning were not true. However, he did not answer when asked additional questions about his relationship with Stone-Manning.

Stone-Manning testified during Blount’s criminal trial in 1993 that she stayed in the Sherwood House for a couple of weeks upon first arriving in Missoula in September 1988 before moving into an apartment in town. Stone-Manning was not asked during the trial if she lived with anyone in the apartment, however, she did describe John Lilburn as a good friend, court records show.

Stone-Manning also described Blount as a friend during her 1993 testimony. She added that he was staying at the Sherwood House during her brief stay at the residence.

She would later describe Blount in 2013 before Montana lawmakers as a “frankly, frightening” person.

“A rather disturbed person, who was not a student, handed me a letter one day on campus and said ‘would you mail this letter?'” Stone-Manning said of Blount in the Montana state Senate hearing.

The White House did not return requests for comment.

‘They knew it was my desire to break the law’

Blount told the DCNF he arrived in Missoula, Montana, in 1988 with the intention of identifying and preventing a future logging site by sabotaging the area with tree spikes. Blount said he was angry that the federal government had criminalized the practice and that he intended to make a political point by carrying out his own high-profile tree spiking.

“They knew it was my desire to break the law and bring it to public attention,” Blount said in reference to the Missoula-based Earth First community.

Blount told the DCNF he identified his target sabotage forest when his then-girlfriend Guenevere Lilburn, who was John Lilburn’s niece, provided him a map in early 1989 showing a portion of the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho was set to be logged. He said Guenevere obtained the map from her uncle.

Blount’s description of how he obtained the map matches his 1993 court testimony, though he also testified at the time that he didn’t get along well with John Lilburn.

Blount testified that it was a core part of his plan to send a letter to the Forest Service after sabotaging the trees. If the authorities weren’t made aware that the trees were unsafe to log, then their criminal efforts to save the trees could have been all for naught, he explained.

“[We] had every intention of canceling the sale, but we needed to notify everybody it had been done so the sale would be canceled, and in the event anybody tried to cut down the trees, nobody would be injured,” Blount said of the letter, court records show.

He told the DCNF that the letter also got the authorities all fired up over the tree spiking, which helped achieve his other objective of making a political point.

Tree spiking has been described as an “eco-terrorist” tactic because if gone unnoticed, spikes can cause serious injuries to workers, such as when a 23-year-old mill worker in California had his jaw cut in half in 1987 when his saw exploded upon striking an unnoticed tree spike.

Blount told the DCNF it wasn’t a matter of particular concern who sent the letter, just that it needed to be sent. He said John Lilburn informed him before any trees were spiked that Stone-Manning was willing to send the letter.

“‘I found someone to mail the letter,’ was the opening statement,” Blount recalled John Lilburn telling him. “And then, of course, Tracy was the name.”

John Lilburn told the DCNF in an email it was not true that he informed Blount before the tree spiking that Stone-Manning would send his letter to the Forest Service.

Blount said he did not speak directly with Stone-Manning about sending the letter until after he had sabotaged the forest.

“She was not all surprised being handed said letter,” Blount said of Stone-Manning’s reaction when he approached her on the local Missoula college campus in April 1989 with the note he wanted her to send to the Forest Service.

Blount noted how foolish it would have been for him, from a criminal point of view, to find a stone-cold stranger to send the letter, which served a critical role in fulfilling the primary objectives of his criminal conspiracy.

Stone-Manning was granted legal immunity to testify at Blount’s criminal trial in 1993. She said during the trial she was “somewhat shocked” upon first reading the contents of Blount’s letter on the grounds of her college campus.

“I hadn’t known this had happened,” she testified. “This was news to me.”

Before sending the letter, Stone-Manning retyped it on a rented typewriter in order to keep her fingerprints off the document, she told the Missoulian in June 1993.

She later told the Missoulian in 2013 that she sent the letter for Blount because she “did not trust he would notify the Forest Service if the letter was not sent.”

Stone-Manning and John Lilburn were among the seven individuals subpoenaed by a federal grand jury investigating the incident in 1989. Stone-Manning did not disclose to authorities at the time that she had sent the letter. Neither Stone-Manning nor John Lilburn faced charges related to the incident.

She was a member of the editorial collective for the 1991 issue of the Earth First journal that contained a non-bylined article gloating that federal investigators were bungling their investigation into the Clearwater tree spiking plot, having misidentified John Lilburn’s vehicle during a search of the Sherwood House. (RELATED: Biden Nominee Helped Edit Radical Paper That Gloated The Feds Were Bungling Investigation Into Tree Spiking Plot)

Stone-Manning waited nearly four years to come clean to authorities about the role she played in the tree spiking plot. She came forward in early 1993 after Guenevere Lilburn had disclosed to authorities that Stone-Manning had sent the anonymous letter.

Numerous Republican senators have called on President Joe Biden to revoke Stone-Manning’s nomination over her involvement in the tree spiking plot and her alleged dishonesty to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the incident. Senate Democrats have brushed aside the allegations, however, and voted unanimously to discharge Stone-Manning’s nomination from the committee in late July.

A final vote for Stone-Manning’s nomination in the Senate has not yet been scheduled.

Stone-Manning’s alleged boyfriend was a radical Earth First activist

John Lilburn was never charged with a crime in the tree spiking incident, but his actions prior to the tree spiking provided enough probable cause for authorities to obtain a federal warrant to search the Sherwood House, the lead Forest Service investigator in the case said during Blount’s 1993 trial.

The investigator, Michael Merkley, testified that the search warrant was granted in part because his investigation revealed that John Lilburn had legally requested and obtained forest sale maps from a ranger station prior to the Clearwater forest tree spiking. The investigator said he found a box of spikes during his search of the Sherwood House.

John Lilburn was filmed at a June 1989 Earth First event, less than two months after investigators searched the home, warning his fellow activists that the authorities had been tracking their movements.

“Wild Rockies [Earth First] has been active for maybe a year and a half, and we had the contact house raided on April 29. And I just want everyone to know that it’s going to happen to you,” John Lilburn said.

“It happened to us, and, well shit we haven’t done anything to deserve it,” John Lilburn added, which elicited laughs from the crowd.

“If you’re doing stuff out there, even if you’re not doing anything … you better be careful,” John Lilburn said. “You don’t have many answers when all the sudden you feel very trapped, and all the sudden they’re searching your house and you know there’s things that you don’t want you to find.”

“All I’m saying is, be careful,” John Lilburn concluded.

Later, in November 1989, John Lilburn gave an interview to author Rik Scarce for the 1990 book, “Eco-Warriors, Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement,” in which Lilburn is quoted saying how he and other Missoula Earth First activists carried out a payback tree-sitting protest following the Sherwood House raid as a way of “striking back, sticking to our high ground, saying, ‘Fuck you! You’re not going to intimidate me into not doing anything.'”

John Lilburn was quoted in the book saying the payback protest, in which three other Earth First activists spent five days camping up on trees near Lindbergh Lake to prevent logging, was the first-ever tree-sit protest in Montana and garnered significant local media coverage.

Stone-Manning was not identified as a member of “Lilburn’s gang” in the book, but she was quoted in numerous news articles in August 1989 as an Earth First spokeswoman for a tree-sitting protest near Lindberg Lake that, according to the media reports, meets the exact description of the payback protest John Lilburn described in the book.

In an article covering the first day of the tree-sit, Stone-Manning was described by name as a “University of Montana student helping the sitters.” The article, which was written by Stone-Manning’s future husband, Richard Manning, stated the action was the first tree-sitting protest in Montana.

Two days later, after the Forest Service barred public access to the site, Stone-Manning was quoted in another article as an Earth First spokeswoman saying the authorities were trying to “take public light away from the protest.

According to the book, John Lilburn said he illegally remained on site of the protest after public access was cut off.

“To avoid arrest, Lilburn was forced to hide behind or beneath logging debris whenever anyone came near,” the book states. “The press was allowed in, however, and the sit received substantial attention throughout Montana.”

On the fifth day of the protest, Stone-Manning was quoted in another article as a “spokeswoman for the tree-sitters.” She announced that the three Earth First tree-sitters had decided to conclude their protest, adding that they accomplished what they set out to do because they “started to make some people think.”

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