October 12, 2018
When Karen Budd Falen served on the Trump Transition Team on interior issues and was tapped for the top job at the Bureau of Land Management, she knew some concessions would have to be made.
After the FBI background check was completed, she was asked to leave her post at the Cheyenne, Wyo., law firm she and her husband, Frank Falen, founded. It was something she was willing to do because she knew the importance of the position and how she would be able to help agriculture, especially in the West.
She then agreed to withdraw from her current cases. Then she agreed to recuse herself from any cases involving the Department of the Interior.
"Then they just kept adding conditions and conditions," she said.
Budd Falen then agreed to begin the process to change the name of the law firm. The next thing asked was for her husband not to accept any cases having to do with the Department of the Interior. Frank Falen's specialty is representing private landowners entering into oil and gas contracts, while Budd Falen specialized in federal issues.
"We said okay because this is really important and maybe we can help the livestock industry so we agreed to that condition," she said.
They then suggested that her husband not remain as a private attorney at all. Knowing the gravity of the position at stake, she and Falen agreed.
"We agreed to all this stuff but then last March they came back and said there's one more condition," she said. "The condition is you have to sell your interest in your family ranch in Big Piney that we've had for five generations and your husband has to sell his interest in his family-owned ranch in Nevada."
That was when Budd Falen said she drew the line. A rancher first and foremost, selling her interest and her husband's interest in their ranches wasn't negotiable.
Budd Falen's family ranch — the land, the BLM permits — have all been the same and in the family for five generations.
"There has never been an appeal or a problem with our grazing allotments ever," she said.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
When asked for an explanation, knowing she would have to recuse herself if a future issue were ever to arise, she was told that if she were ever to do anything good for BLM permittees across the West, her ranch could potentially benefit, causing a conflict of interest.
"With that same logic, a taxpayer cannot be the head of the IRS," she said.
Budd Falen was then offered the position of deputy solicitor for wildlife and parks, which she accepted. She said she will work on issues relating to the Endangered Species Act, the National Park Service, wildlife refuges and national monuments. But, she said, she will not sell the ranch.
"It's all related to private property use and less government regulation which I am a strong supporter of," she said.
A new director of the BLM has not yet been named. Budd Falen said after watching the latest confirmation hearing, she's doubtful that anyone would agree to go through the process.
"That was such a disservice," she said. "I don't care which side of the issue you're on, if you can't disagree and be nice to one another while you're disagreeing … I don't think either side actually won."
She said having a discussion with opposing views is good, which is one of the things she looks forward to during her time in the capitol, where she hopes to bring some of the realities of the West to Washington.
"I think there's lot of good people back there," she said. "I think unless you've lived out here and tried to make a living on the land and really worked with people out here, I think you don't have the perspective. Not to take away from people who are there now, I just think I'll have a different perspective from what I've done for the past 30 years."
Budd Falen will begin her time in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1, returning to Wyoming as frequently as possible. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.