Budd-Falen looks at legal implications, lawsuits regarding federal lands, grazing allotmentsWritten by Joy Ufford
Pinedale – The brightly dressed woman paced quietly around the room but didn’t waste time when she took the floor.
“Okay, let’s get this out of the way – I am Dan Budd’s daughter,” attorney Karen Budd-Falen told the audience gathered at the Pinedale Library Jan. 27 for the Sublette County Conservation District’s (SCCD) grazing permit renewal workshop.
Budd-Falen – a celebrity of sorts for public-land use and ranchers across the West – offered to speak to workshop audiences in Pinedale and Marbleton, many of whom recognized her for growing up in Big Piney as “Dan Budd’s daughter.”
She has her own law firm, Budd-Falen Law Offices, and represents many battling with government agencies and “enviros” across the West.
With the header of “Permit Renewal Court Cases in the West: Who Won, Who Didn’t and Why?” Budd-Falen immediately updated the audience on the Jan. 22 Ninth District Court hearing in Lander, in which private landowners filed suit against Western Watersheds Project (WWP) state director Jonathon Ratner.
Budd-Falen represents the group of ranchers who are suing Ratner for trespassing on their lands to collect water quality samples, which he submitted to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
In the hearing, Judge Norman Young allowed Ratner was “likely trespassing” but took the issue of damages under advisement, she recounted, noting she has seen and heard of the WWP director riding along with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) range specialists.
“Jon Ratner doesn’t have the right to ride along with anyone out there,” she stated.
Quickly warming to her topic, Budd-Falen advised permittees to “understand and know before litigation that WWP is in litigation with the agency.”
“The first thing I want to tell people about is FOIA – the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA allows us to get a copy of every document in our files,” Budd-Falen said. “Get that file. See if there’s anything in there. Western Watersheds puts lots of stuff in our files. We might be shocked.”
Regarding the above-mentioned WWP trespass lawsuit, Budd-Falen asked the audience how many Wyoming BLM allotments they thought WWP might have requested information about.
“WWP has requested information about every single allotment,” she replied. “Every single one of us is on Western Watershed’s list.”
Budd-Falen said the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) is a non-mandated procedure used incorrectly by “enviros” to get their desired outcomes.
If an organization suing the BLM seeks even a temporary stay of grazing, Budd-Falen said, “Know we can get kicked off our land for a year or two,” and many decisions take much longer.
“BLM voluntarily stopped using categorical exclusions (CX) to renew term grazing permits. The CX actually is a NEPA document and is preferable when renewing Forest Service permits,” she added.
Budd-Falen continued outlining the grazing permit renewal and appeal processes, with a stream of information about agency data starting two steps above whatever a rancher collects.
“And if there’s no other data but theirs, we’re going to lose – end of story,” she said.
One rancher asked her, “When a permittee has little experience with NEPA, should they call an attorney?”
Budd-Falen commented, “I think ranchers need somebody to make sure they’ve got all those legal arguments in there.”