Three reasons Karen Budd-Falen is unfit to lead the Bureau of Land Management

With a career dedicated to undermining public lands and public servants, Budd-Falen is uniquely unqualified for the director’s post

Greg Zimmerman
Jun 21, 2017 · 5 min read
Credit: Bureau of Land Management »» Budd-Falen Law Offices, Facebook

Rumors are swirling that President Trump will nominate Wyoming lawyer Karen Budd-Falen to direct the Bureau of Land Management.

Budd-Falen is uniquely unqualified to oversee the BLM, a department charged with managing 258 million acres of America’s public lands — and nearly 700 million acres of oil, gas, and other minerals — on behalf of the American public. She has spent her career fighting against the very existence of U.S. public lands, filing frivolous lawsuits against the BLM, working to subvert public land managers, supporting unpopular efforts to dispose of public lands, and even aligning herself with fringe extremists.

Here are three important reasons Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump administration should look elsewhere rather than nominate Budd-Falen to run one of America’s most important agencies.

Budd-Falen sympathizes with the Bundy family and other anti-public lands extremists; she also wrote their playbook

For decades Karen Budd-Falen has been a leading voice in the the so-called “county rights movement” — an offshoot of the fringe county supremacy movement which holds that county sheriffs have ultimate authority over the federal government and can choose whether or not to enforce U.S. laws.

In the early 1990s she drafted Catron County, New Mexico’s “comprehensive land use & policy plan” which effectively declared the U.S. government is subservient to the county’s “custom and culture” — suggesting land managers could not regulate grazing, logging, and other uses of public lands.

The Catron ordinance is a detailed handbook for county supremacists and anti-public land extremists who’ve led multiple armed standoffs with public land managers and law enforcement. The land use plan goes so far as to claim that BLM land managers “undermined the practice of democracy….” The model plan drafted by Budd-Falen spread to dozens of counties across the West, and while most counties avoided testing the laws in court, a state court did invalidate a Catron-style ordinance in Boundary County, Idaho.

In recent years, Budd-Falen has spoken positively of the Bundy family’s illegal activities, saying “I totally get” why they’ve carried out armed standoffs with the U.S. government. You can draw a straight line from the theories laid out by Budd-Falen to Cliven and Ammon Bundy, who argue that the U.S. government does not have authority over the public lands it manages. In fact, Budd-Falen represented Cliven Bundy in a 1989 lawsuit against the U.S. government. She also participated in a symposium earlier this year alongside a who’s-who of fringe public lands “theorists” who have provided the ideological underpinnings for the Bundy Family and other anti-public lands extremists.

The potential BLM nominee has also aligned herself with anti-public land Utah politicians, arguing that a lawsuit to force the “transfer” of national forests and other public lands within Utah could stand a chance constitutionally. Legal scholars and attorneys general across the West disagree with that assessment.

Budd-Falen made her career undermining BLM employees, even authoring policy and filing lawsuits to jail public lands employees

The Catron County land use plan drafted by Budd-Falen asserts that land managers and other government employees who failed to cooperate with the county could be arrested. It states:

“Federal and state agents threaten the life, liberty, and happiness of the people of Catron County. They present a clear and present danger to the land and livelihood of every man, woman, and child. A state of emergency prevails that calls for devotion and sacrifice. It asks that the citizens of Catron County unite themselves and, through their elected government, assert their fundamental rights to human dignity and self government (pg. vii).”

One of the ordinances included within the land use plan calls for the arrest of any government employee that the county perceives to violate the civil rights of county residents (pg. 46).

Her work with Catron County is not the only time Budd-Falen tried to facilitate policy to jail BLM employees. In 2007, she represented a Wyoming rancher trying to sue BLM employees under federal racketeering laws for performing their job. Using a law intended to combat mafia groups, Budd-Falen attempted to sue several low-level BLM employees for implementing longstanding laws.

If Budd-Falen had succeeded, it could have exposed all government employees to serial litigation for simply performing their jobs. Fortunately, she and her client lost the bizarre lawsuit unanimously in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Budd-Falen opposes our nation’s premier conservation lands and laws she would be asked to protect as BLM Director

Budd-Falen has been a fierce opponent of the bedrock conservation laws that she would be required to protect as BLM Director.

She is on record stating that the Endangered Species Act is nothing more than “a sword to tear down the American economy, drive up food, energy and housing costs and wear down and take out rural communities and counties.” And she’s accused the U.S. government of “trying to regulate [her clients] out of business,” fighting against foundational laws, including the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the Equal Access to Justice Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

A decade ago, she unsuccessfully represented a group of off-road vehicle users who sued the U.S. government for the right to drive through Surprise Canyon — a lush, water-filled, and pristine canyon running through Death Valley National Park and adjacent BLM lands.

The evidence against Karen Budd-Falen’s fitness to run the BLM is overwhelming. President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke — who have both expressed a deep admiration for Theodore Roosevelt and voiced opposition to public land seizure efforts — have promised to uphold America’s conservation traditions, while Budd-Falen has spent her career working to tear them down. The President and Secretary Zinke can demonstrate their conservation commitment isn’t mere political posturing and pandering by looking elsewhere for the next BLM chief. There are certainly many highly qualified candidates whose worldview more closely aligns with the BLM’s mission.


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