Horse News

Will Trump put a ‘hired gun’ for ranchers in top BLM post?

by Tay Wiles as published on High Country News

The president is considering a BLM director who has continually fought the agency

Karen Budd-Falen

Nearly a year after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the agency that manages 246 million acres and that is critical to the functioning of the American West still has no permanent leadership. In November, Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for Utah State Rep. Chris Stewart, R, became the third person in 11 months to temporarily take on the duties of Bureau of Land Management acting director. One potential pick for the director job is Karen Budd-Falen — a long-time antagonist of the bureau. In other administrations, her background would make her an unlikely pick. In the Trump administration, she’s a contender.

Budd-Falen is a polarizing figure in the West. She is one of the region’s preeminent property rights lawyers, known for representing ranchers in disputes with federal land agencies like the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.

By the time she was 32, in 1991, Newsweek had dubbed Budd-Falen the “hired gun of choice for ranchers facing court action from federal agencies.” That reputation has only grown; her supporters say she’ll bring positive change to the BLM to curb federal overreach fueled by environmentalists. “Karen will certainly take a look at multiple use from a different set of glasses than previously administrations have,” Utah Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Brent Tanner said. “One of the advantages of Karen … is she has based her career around the legal issues affecting livestock grazing on public lands.”

Critics say Budd-Falen is anathema to the stated mission of the BLM, which is to manage land for multiple uses, not just for ranching or the extractive industry. The attorney has long been a harsh critic of the agency she would lead. “Karen Budd-Falen has attacked the Bureau of Land Management over and over, and now she is trying to secure the top post,” said Land Tawney, director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “This tragic irony must not be ignored.”

It’s not just Budd-Falen’s apparent disposition to the mission of the BLM, critics say. Her history would follow her to the agency and could be an added challenge. “I think first and foremost she would have a significant perception challenge with public lands stakeholders,” said Bob Abbey, who served 34 years in state and federal government and was the BLM director from 2009 to 2012. “It will take her months to earn the respect and trust within the organization and among public lands stakeholders. … I don’t think she’s the right person for the job right now.”

Budd-Falen is a fifth-generation Wyoming resident, originally from Big Piney, population 521. Her family members have long been active in Western politics on the side of the Sagebrush Rebellion. Her father, Dan Budd, a rancher who served in the Wyoming legislature from 1981 to 1992, opposed the foundational 1976 Federal Land Policy Management Act, in part because it allowed the BLM to retain vast acreages instead of continuing to pass the land into private ownership, as had been the previous policy since the 19th century.

Budd-Falen earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Wyoming. After law school, she worked as a lawyer at the Denver-based Mountain States Legal Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1976 as part of a wave of conservative resistance to new environmental laws, such as FLPMA and the Endangered Species, Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. She served as a law clerk to the assistant solicitor for Water and Power and in the office for land and minerals, both at the Interior Department under former President Ronald Reagan. More recently, she was part of Trump’s Interior transition team. She now lives in Cheyenne and co-owns a law firm with her husband, Frank Falen, which focuses on property rights.

Federal land management

Budd-Falen has not publicly taken a stance on the conservative Western movement to transfer federal land to state control. But in November she spoke at a public event in Hamilton, Montana, that also featured a presentation from Republican State Sen. Jennifer Fielder. Fielder is the head of the American Lands Council, a non-profit whose mission is to transfer lands from the federal government to the states. (In an interview, Budd-Falen told High Country News she didn’t know that Fielder would be speaking at the event.) That appearance is one of many examples critics say explain her position on federal land management. “(Budd-Falen) may say she has no opinion on (land transfer) but her career has been spent propping up that ideology,” Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the progressive nonprofit Center for Western Priorities, said.

For her part, Budd-Falen said she understands that the notion pushed by many land transfer advocates, that the federal government can’t legally administer land in the West, is not upheld by the courts. “Supreme Court rulings have very clearly said… the federal government can hold these federal lands,” she said. “Until you get the Supreme Court to change its mind, then that’s the current interpretation of the Constitution.” When asked if she agreed with that interpretation, Budd-Falen said she did. The Wyoming attorney also said it would be too costly for her home state to take on managing all of its federal lands. “I don’t think it’s feasible,” she said.

On the topic of national monuments, however, Budd-Falen has lauded Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for their 2017 review of designations over 100,000 acres. “I think there is enough land out there, and people are smart enough, that we can have multiple-use and still protect the land (without large monuments),” she told Fox News in May. At the Montana event in November, she criticized the Obama Administration’s monument designations: “If you read the Antiquities Act, it says you are to designate the smallest area possible to protect the artifact you are trying to protect. I looked at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, surely that’s not the smallest area possible to protect these things,” she said. As head of the BLM, Budd-Falen would oversee both monuments, which public lands advocates say were essential to protecting valuable scientific and cultural resources.

Property Rights

The importance of property rights is foundational to Budd-Falen’s worldview. In 2011, at a Constitutional Sheriffs panel event in Yreka, California, she said that all rights in the U.S. Constitution are “based on the right of ownership of private property.” This interpretation stems from an established school of thought in which property rights hold a supreme position in the Constitution, says Gregg Cawley, a professor of environmental politics at the University of Wyoming. In this view of the Constitution, Cawley says: “‘Property’ was a kind of short hand symbol for everything an individual needed to live their life as they wanted…. a ranch is ‘property’ in the sense of land but (that ranch) is also a means for the owners to secure their ‘rights’ to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”

This exalted view of property rights inspires Budd-Falen’s work in defense of ranchers. She has spent much of her career defending ranchers’ rights to water, easements, and grazing federal land. Early in her career, Budd-Falen took on a client who is now one of the West’s most notorious cattlemen, Cliven Bundy of Bunkerville, Nevada, over a grazing rights dispute. Bundy is now known for leading an armed standoff against federal agents in 2014 over his illegally grazing cattle. Back in the early 1990s, he was just one of about a dozen southern Nevada ranchers Budd-Falen represented in court…(CONTINUED)

9 replies »

  1. Well, judging from the picks to run the EPA and other agencies – naturally this woman would be perfect! You pick the person who wants to bring down this particular agency, right?


  2. C-SPAN
    Wyoming Cattle War Patrick Holscher talked about the Johnson County War, thought to be the most notorious range war in Wyoming’s history, and how the incident was still impacting Wyoming’s cattle industry more than a century later. He explained that large cattle barons accused smaller cattle ranchers of stealing cattle and trespassing during the late 1880s.

    The cattle barons hired men to protect their property and murder those thought to have stolen or trespassed.


  3. The minute her name surfaced I knew it was sink the Titanic again. This is really truly the worst person for All horses and All public lands. A PERSON who fights to Allow it’s destruction and supports disassembling the lands and touts overgrazing as economic boom. This is simply the disaster Zinke was waiting for. No checks and balances for all.


    • ICYMI: More evidence of Budd-Falen’s land seizure agenda

      Likely nominee for Bureau of Land Management director Karen Budd-Falen flanked by land seizure advocates at Montana event
      **Full Audio Available Upon Request**

      In her response to questioning, Budd-Falen confirmed sports groups and public land advocates’ worst fears that she has indeed been interviewed for the BLM position by Secretary Zinke and would continue to advocate for the transfer of public lands to private ownership and local governments if confirmed to the post. Budd-Falen seemed to imply that she was already the BLM Director.


      • Livestock land grab for checkerboard land in Wyoming
        knew it wasn’t going to be good for wild horses & burros when I read that the original Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act expired, and that Nevada’s Dean Heller was co-sponsoring S. 368, a new “reauthorization” which would be in effect for 10 years. And sure enough, when looking at state fact sheets of the impact of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization of 2015 (FLTFA), it’s clear that FLTFA will promote the chance for ranchers to buy checkerboard land, and benefit the livestock interests, especially in Wyoming. Leading the charge in the House for H.R. 2068 is Rep. Lummis (R-WY).
        The state fact sheet for Wyoming states “FLTFA is important to ranchers, as well as over 100 groups. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust, Public Lands Council, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boone and Crockett, and over 100 other groups support FLTFA reauthorization. Public lands are important to ranchers for grazing. FLTFA sales also provide an opportunity for a rancher with a BLM tract of land within or adjacent to his or her property to purchase the property, possibly to expand the ranch, prevent a liability from having a public inholding, or other purposes.”
        And “WYOMING BLM AND LAND SALES Land available for disposal: at least 561,829 acres. The Rock Springs Field Office ranks in the top seven BLM field offices that generated 97% of FLTFA revenue as of May 31, 2007. Several sales in southwestern Wyoming, the most notable being the sale of 722.5 acres to PacifiCorp – in the Rock Springs Field Office.”
        It seems like the BLM has been getting rid of Wyoming’s wild horses so they can outright sell the checkerboard public lands to private livestock ranchers, oil companies, and other special interests. – Debbie
        SOURCE: The Nature Conservancy


      • “The Wyoming attorney also said it would be too costly for her home state to take on managing all of its federal lands. “I don’t think it’s feasible,” she said.”
        Apparently shes changed her mind? But then, we all know how quickly the land grab would start – everything would be for sale.


    • Hmmm. I thought the Taylor Grazing Act (still the law) clearly states grazing is not to be construed as a “right” on public lands, only and always a revocable privilege. It is alarming a public figure/speaker/lawyer would characterize this otherwise, and worse if she’s being considered to manage for the public good, at public expense, not private interests.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. BEWARE…this looks to be yet another attempt for a Public Lands grab.
    Another Public Land Transfer Bill Filed At 11th Hour
    By MELODIE EDWARDS • JAN 31, 2017

    A new public land transfer bill was filed this week by House Majority Floor Leader David Miller. The bill would allow the state to take over management of federal lands, and comes hard on the heels of a recently failed constitutional amendment that would also have given the state control over federal lands, an idea that’s been opposed by many sporting and outdoor recreation groups.
    House Bill 293 revises an old law that has allowed such take overs for decades. Wyoming Wildlife Federation public lands coordinator Jessi Johnson said the old law is broad, and doesn’t specify things like whether those lands could then be turned around and sold.
    “You know, they know they don’t have the support behind this and it’s quite frankly surprising that it’s come up,” Johnson said, pointing out that the bill has just one sponsor. “It’s just going to be a never ending thing until we get this point across.”
    The bill’s sponsor is Representative Marti Halverson, who is also a board member for the American Lands Council, a Utah organization that advocates for public land transfers in the American West.


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