Horse Health

Sagebrush Rebel appointed to Interior Department

by Jonathan Thompson as published on High Country News

Property rights lawyer Karen Budd-Falen will give legal counsel on wilderness, wildlife and many of the policies she’s spent her career attacking.

The conservation community let out a collective sigh of relief earlier this year when Karen Budd-Falen, a Wyoming property rights lawyer, withdrew from consideration as the new head of the Bureau of Land Management. The reprieve was short-lived, however. In October, the Interior Department announced that Budd-Falen had instead been appointed deputy Interior solicitor for wildlife and parks — a more obscure, but still important position, and one that aligns with the Trump administration’s apparent desire to push the American public out of the public lands.

Budd-Falen’s four-decade-long career, which includes a stint under James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s notorious Interior secretary, has been built on the defense of private property, part of a movement that is often opposed to federal oversight and environmental regulation. In 2011, she told a gathering of county sheriffs in Northern California that “the foundation for every single right in this country, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote, our freedom to petition, is all based on the right of ownership of private property.”

This sounds like a noble cause, standing up for ordinary landowners when the government or corporations mess with their homes. And sometimes it is: Budd-Falen represented the legendary Republican-turned-anti-oil-and-gas activist Tweeti Blancett in her attempt to get the Bureau of Land Management to clean up the mess it made on and around her New Mexico ranch, and her firm often works with landowners to get the best deal from energy companies developing their property. But more often than not, Budd-Falen’s vision of private property rights extends beyond a landowner’s property lines and onto the public lands and resources — at the expense of the land itself, the wildlife that live there, and the people who rely upon it for other uses.

In a telling article in the Idaho Law Review in 1993, Budd-Falen and her husband, Frank Falen, argued that grazing livestock on public lands was actually a “private property right” protected by the Constitution — a notion that would certainly make it hard for federal land managers to regulate grazing. In 2012, Budd-Falen defended Andrew VanDenBerg, who bulldozed a road through a wilderness study area in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to access a mining claim, arguing that a 150-year-old statute meant to provide rights of way to miners and pack animals should apply to motorized travel and bulldozers. In 1995, she represented Wyoming landowners who felt that they had the right to kill more big game — a public resource — because limiting the number of hunting tags issued to them “effects a constitutional taking” of their property.

Budd-Falen’s property-rights crusade has put her in questionable company. In the early 1990s she represented a number of southern Nevada ranchers — including Cliven Bundy — in their beef with the feds over grazing in endangered desert tortoise habitat. And while she condemned the Bundys’ later anti-federal conflicts in Nevada, her work and words — often hostile toward environmentalists and federal land agencies — helped provide an intellectual underpinning for the Bundy worldview.

Budd-Falen is a lifelong Sagebrush Rebel, a veteran of the 1980s-era conflicts over public-land management in the West. She is an alumna of the Mountain West Legal Foundation, which spawned the so-called “Wise Use” movement and helped launch the careers of both Watt, who tried to dismantle the Interior Department from within, and Gale Norton, George W. Bush’s drill-happy Interior secretary. In 2007, she told HCN’s Ray Ring that her most important case was Wilkie v. Robbins, in which she used RICO, an anti-racketeering law, to intimidate BLM agents who had cited her client for violating grazing regulations.

Outside the courtroom, her rhetoric has helped provide justification for those inclined to take up arms against federal agents, as when she described land-management agencies as part of “a dictatorship” intent on taking away “private property and private property rights.” In the 1990s, Budd-Falen encouraged counties to create land-use plans that turned the National Environmental Protection Act against the federal government. Catron County, New Mexico, adopted a template with her help, in a plan that said, “Federal and state agents threaten the life, liberty, and happiness of the people of Catron County … and present danger to the land and livelihood of every man, woman, and child.”

Now, Budd-Falen is a fed. Her job will be to provide legal counsel to the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Geological Survey, on wild and scenic rivers, wilderness areas, environmental protections and endangered species protection. Few if any of those matters will benefit from a person whose worldview is so opposed to public resources, especially at a time when so many environmental laws and regulations are under attack. She’ll be working under the acting solicitor, Daniel Jorjani, who was responsible last year for declaring that oil companies, wind farms and open-pit mining firms are not liable for the deaths of migratory birds. Nothing in Budd-Falen’s record suggests she’ll work hard to protect anything other than the dubious private property rights of people and corporations. If she seems these days to be less on the far-right end of the spectrum, that’s because the spectrum has shifted. Budd-Falen, not so much.

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at or submit a letter to the editor

15 replies »

  1. Budd-Falen surely knew (and knows) no property rights were ever codified to grazing permit holders in the Taylor Grazing Act:

    Taylor Grazing Act of 1934

    § 315b. Grazing permits; fees; vested water rights; permits not to create
    right in land

    The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to issue or cause to be issued permits to graze livestock on
    such grazing districts to such bona fide settlers, residents, and other stock owners as under his rules
    and regulations are entitled to participate in the use of the range, upon the payment annually of
    reasonable fees in each case to be fixed or determined from time to time in accordance with governing
    law. Grazing permits shall be issued only to citizens of the United States or to those who have filed the
    necessary declarations of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws, and to
    groups, associations, or corporations authorized to conduct business under the laws of the State in
    which the grazing district is located. Preference shall be given in the issuance of grazing permits to
    those within or near a district who are landowners engaged in the livestock business, bona fide
    occupants or settlers, or owners of water or water rights, as may be necessary to permit the proper use
    of lands, water or water rights owned, occupied, or leased by them, except that until July 1, 1935, no
    preference shall be given in the issuance of such permits to any such owner, occupant, or settler, whose
    rights were acquired between January 1, 1934, and December 31, 1934, both dates, inclusive, except
    that no permittee complying with the rules and regulations laid down by the Secretary of the Interior
    shall be denied the renewal of such permit, if such denial will impair the value of the grazing unit of the
    permittee, when such unit is pledged as security for any bona fide loan. Such permits shall be for a
    period of not more than ten years, subject to the preference right of the permittees to renewal in the
    discretion of the Secretary of the Interior, who shall specify from time to time numbers of stock and
    seasons of use. During periods of range depletion due to severe drought or other natural causes, or in
    case of a general epidemic of disease, during the life of the permit, the Secretary of the Interior is
    authorized, in his discretion to remit, reduce, refund in whole or in part, or authorize postponement of
    payment of grazing fees for such depletion period so long as the emergency exists: Provided further,
    That nothing in this subchapter shall be construed or administered in any way to diminish or impair
    any right to the possession and use of water for mining, agriculture, manufacture, or other purposes
    which has heretofore vested or accrued under existing law validly affecting the public lands or which
    may be hereafter initiated or acquired and maintained in accordance with such law. So far as
    consistent with the purposes and provisions of this subchapter, grazing privileges recognized and
    acknowledged shall be adequately safeguarded, but the creation of a grazing district or the issuance of
    a permit pursuant to the provisions of this subchapter shall not create any right, title, interest, or estate
    in or to the lands.

    Click to access Taylor-Grazing-Act-1934.pdf

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agree, plus achieving justice for our wild horses and burros depends on BLM officials exercising their authority to legally reduce private, usually corporate, domestic livestock grazing in the wild horse and burros’ legal areas, whether on BLM or USFS lands. Such exercise would be legally covered under 43 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) 4710.3-2 and 43 C.F.R 4710.5(a). In particular, 43 C.F.R. 4710.5 clearly states that the Bureau of Land Management can legally reduce livestock grazing in order “to provide habitat for wild horses or burros.”
      § 4710.5 Closure to livestock grazing.
      (a) If necessary to provide habitat for wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses or burros from disease, harassment or injury, the authorized officer may close appropriate areas of the public lands to grazing use by all or a particular kind of livestock.


    • I guess the Taylor Grazing Act meant something different back then!

      “In order to promote the highest use of the public lands pending its final disposal, the Secretary of the
      Interior is authorized, in his discretion, by order to establish grazing districts or additions thereto
      and/or to modify the boundaries thereof, of vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved lands from any
      part of the public domain of the United States (exclusive of Alaska),
      revested Oregon and California Railroad grantlands, or revested Coos Bay Wagon Road grant lands, and which in his opinion are chiefly valuable for grazing and raising forage crops”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Protesters greet appearance by land-use attorney Budd-Falen
    Nov 18, 2017

    Protesters characterized Budd-Falen as a supporter of privatizing public land, or at least supporting policies proven to lead to land sell-offs.

    Budd-Falen, who once wrote a land-use plan for a New Mexico county stating that “federal and state agents threaten the life, liberty and happiness” of the county’s residents, was invited by state Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton.

    While the event was marketed by Manzella as a public meeting meant to open civil discourse, there was a $10 entrance fee. About half of the seats in the auditorium were empty.


    • Sounds like Ms.Falen has caused a LOT of wasted time in the courts!! Just the kind of person needed in this administration – she will fit right in.



    Salt Lake City, Utah (April 11, 2017)…

    Oral arguments in the case of the Western Rangelands Coalition, representing 16 Utah public lands ranchers, against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seeking the removal of hundreds of horses from the public lands in the southeastern part of the state. In 2014, the court granted American Wild Horse Campaign and our coalition partners The Cloud Foundation and Return to Freedom, Utah photographer John Steele, and Cloud Foundation Board Member Lisa Friday the right to intervene in this case.

    We (and the horses) were well-represented in court by our attorney Nick Lawton from the highly regarded public interest law firm, Meyer, Glitzenstein and Eubanks. Representing the BLM was Department of Justice Attorney Ricky Doyle Turner.
    KAREN BUDD-FALEN — daughter-in-law of John Falen a rancher who heads the Public Lands Council (an industry lobbying group that represents ranchers who graze livestock on public lands) – represented the ranchers.

    What’s troubling is that the ranchers’ extremist position is shared by some within BLM as well:
    BUDD- FALEN asserted in court that that BLM is advising ranchers to lobby Congress to give the agency the authority to remove as many horses as they want, whenever they want, by lifting the ban on slaughtering these animals.

    After the hearing, we were angrily approached by a man claiming to be a Utah State Representative who excoriated Nick for arguing against the ranchers and called us stupid when we disagreed politely with his position.


    • OCTOBER 25, 2018 AT 8:51 PM EDIT
      Reader comment posted
      October 25
      Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Emergency Rescue–SAVE the DG 300 from Slaughter!.

      Las Cruces, NM Thu, Oct 25, 2018 USDA Market News
      US to Mexico Weekly Livestock Export Summary

      Horses Slaughter 1,528 1,145 57,998 54,993
      Breeding Males 63 65 2,089 1,997
      Breeding Females 84 102 2,938 2,885
      Geldings 15 15 924 1,011
      Burro/Mule/Pony 0 17 88 399
      Total Horses 1,690 1,344 64,037 61,285


      • According to this site – the total horses rounded up is 628 – NOT 1,000! So were there really 4,000 horses out there to begin with? Or does the FS math work the same as BLM?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Maggie, here is a portion of the Devil’s Garden lawsuit document that gives a bit more of the background information, including some of the parties involved.

        Document 1 Filed 10/19/17

        WILSON RANCHES, a California general partnership; and GREEN VALLEY CORP., a California corporation dba MS Ranch, Plaintiffs, vs. AMANDA McADAMS, in her official capacity as Forest Supervisor, Modoc National Forest; and U.S. FOREST SERVICE, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
        6. Plaintiff Wilson Ranches is a family-owned cattle ranch located in the Plateau area and headquartered in Alturas, California. Wilson Ranches is a general partnership owned by Bill and Carolyn Wilson. The ranch has been in operation in California for nine generations. Fifteen years ago, Wilson Ranches purchased a grazing permit in the Pine Springs Allotment for $150,000. The permit was to secure additional forage for Wilson Ranches’ herd. About 90% of the Pine Springs Allotments is within the DGWHT. Pine Springs Allotment was a 600-head permit at the time of purchase. Monitoring by defendants has revealed that the population of wild horses on the allotment is estimated to be 750% above the current upper limit of the AML. An estimated 261 wild horses forage in the allotment above the AML of 35, with the highest concentration and heaviest use in the northern 3/4th of the allotment. Wilson Ranches has been adversely affected by defendants’ failure to follow the TMP and failure to act to remove horses to achieve the AML. Wilson Ranches has consistently participated in grazing and wild horse management issues with the Modoc NF.

        9. Plaintiff MS Ranch is a livestock ranch headquartered in Alturas, California. MS Ranch was bought by Green Valley Corporation in 2005 from the original owner, Robert Schulter. Green Valley Corporation continues to operate the ranch under the dba MS Ranch. The acquisition included the grazing permit for the Emigrant Springs Allotment. Approximately 95% of the allotment, including 7,632 acres of Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) administered land, is within the DGWHT. MS ranch is managed by Mr. Jess Dancer.

        MS Ranch has also suffered damages to the range and structural improvements within its allotment. Wild horse overpopulation has degraded water sources, reduced forage, and caused growth of noxious and non-noxious weeds and thistles (including toxic plants), which displace the normal forage, degrades riparian areas, and displaces native and endangered species. During 2012 and 2013, wild horse overpopulation also destroyed fences and other improvements MS Ranch is required to replace. During 2014, disturbances within a fenced-in riparian area in the Emigrant Springs Allotment remained a large problem due to wild horse activity. Instead of jumping the fence as the horses had done previously, in the process of breaching the fences protecting the riparian area, the horses plowed through them and dragged away a quarter mile of fence.

        Click to access Wild-horses.pdf


      • Then look at which parties created the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory Management Plan and notice which names keep showing up.


        This year’s Distinguished Service Award went to SUSIE STOKKE
        The was the creative force behind the development of Modoc County Farm Bureau’s Retired Worker Program which has been using Resource Advisory Committee funds, supplemented with matches from permittees, farm bureau and Modoc County to accomplish work on the Modoc National Forest that the Forest was not staffed or funded to complete. She was also the organizational mind that conceived developing the Wild Horse Territory Plan through the Retired Worker Program and along with ROB JEFFERS is responsible for its timely and efficient completion. This Plan was the essential first step in reducing the over population of wild horses.

        September 30, 2016

        Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) Members
        IDT Leader(s): SUSAN STOKKE and ROB JEFFERS
        Wild Horses: ROB JEFFERS
        Range: SUSAN STOKKE

        Click to access 68506_FSPLT3_1452088.pdf


        ROB JEFFERS in attendance
        July 29, 2008
        Team Members
        Lili Thomas (Note taker/Team lead),
        Joe Stratton,
        John Neil,
        ROB JEFFERS,
        Jim Johnson and
        Al Kane
        How many could be euthanized during a gather without having NEPA?
        What is the criteria used during a gather to euthanize a horse is it age, and if so what age?
        How many could be euthanized at the preparation facility without causing a major change in the practice of disposal?
        What would be the criteria for euthanizing at the midpoint and adoption facilities?
        Would you contract disposal of the carcasses at gather sites?
        Have a euthanasia and disposal contract?
        Have a contract to sell horses at the gather site?
        Are we euthanizing horses to save money to complete gathers?
        The team will have comments on the above question for the next conference call


      • Modoc County (Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory) “funny business” that is NOT funny. (excerpts)

        The local Farm Bureau and the Devil’s Garden Wild Horses “management” (excerpts):
        “The Modoc County Farm Bureau Takes Charge of Developing the Revised Management Plan
        The Forest Service subcontracted the development of the revised WHT plan to an entity representing local grazing interests. In August 2012 over one year after the Service issued the scoping letter the Modoc County Farm Bureau (“Farm Bureau”) entered into an agreement with the Service to develop the new management plan for the WHT.

        (“The entire plan development, not just the data collection, will now be funded through a new challenge cost share agreement between the Forest and the Modoc County Farm Bureau.”).
        Under this agreement, the Farm Bureau agreed to collect all of the data on wild horses, draft a monitoring report, prepare the draft EA and final EA, and oppose any appeal of the agency’s decision. AR04713. In return, the Service paid the Farm Bureau $203,000.

        The Farm Bureau was not a disinterested party. Its purpose “is to protect and promote agricultural interests in Modoc County,” including the grazing allotments that overlap with the WHT that are used to feed the cattle that compete with horses.

        The Farm Bureau “has many members whose livelihoods depend on grazing operations affected by the ever-expanding wild horse herd within or adjacent to” the WHT.

        Almost immediately after signing this agreement, the scope of the WHT plan revision was dramatically revised. On October 31, 2012, Susan Stokke, Field Manager for the Farm Bureau’s project, informed the Forest Service that the Farm Bureau wanted to change the WHT boundaries.
        Ms. Stokke is the wife of Sean Curtis, the Director of the Farm Bureau.” (


  4. Daily on Energy: Trump’s cabinet in hot water again with renewed calls to fire Zinke
    by John Siciliano
    & Josh Siegel
    | October 19, 2018

    “Between billing tax-payers for an unnecessary romantic trip to Turkey, and the 13 other federal investigations, Ryan Zinke is unfit for office,” she added. “It is time to fire Zinke.”

    Zinke, addressing a wind energy conference this week, was chided by activists calling for him to be fired.
    The watchdog group American Oversight also got a shot in the arm from the report.
    “Self interest, a disdain for ethics, and turning public service into a family affair have defined this administration,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “The Inspector General deserves credit for speaking truth to power and, critically, demonstrating that the truth will win out in the end.”


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