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Wyoming People

Falens honored as Outstanding Ag Citizen

On May 11, Western Wyoming rancher Fred Roberts, whole reading the morning newspaper, discovered that an environmental group was trying to stop grazing on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allotment that he relies on for summer feed. As Roberts read on, he quickly learned that the environmental group and the BLM would be determining the future of grazing in the courtroom three days later.

Roberts, along with 23 other permit holding ranch families, were panicked and in need of an attorney to file an injunction. Roberts turned to Budd-Falen Law Offices of Cheyenne. Frank Falen, who owns and operates the law firm with his wife, Karen, agreed to take the case and spent Mother’s Day weekend preparing.

Devotion to agriculture, such as that mentioned above, is nothing new for Frank Falen and his wife and partner in Budd Falen Law, Karen Budd-Falen. Time and time again they’ve appeared on the forefront for reasons no other than their belief in protecting agriculture. For this reason and many more, the duo will be honored as Outstanding Ag Citizens during a Friday reception at the Wyoming State Fair.

The Outstanding Ag Citizen is an award launched by Wyoming Livestock Roundup publisher Del Tinsely nearly ten years ago. Roundup readers nominate agriculture community members who go above and beyond the call of duty as an industry advocate. A panel of judges selects the winners from those nominated. Also being honored this year is Larry Bourret, executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation.

Dick Loper, grazing consultant for the Wyoming State Grazing Board describes Frank and Karen as a legal team with a personal touch. “Being from Wyoming they understand the issues, the people and the way of life,” said Loper. “Many of the issues we’re winning on today, weren’t successful in the past. Frank and Karen’s law firm has been the driving force in protecting permit renewal.”

Both Frank and Karen were raised in the agriculture industry. Karen grew up as a fifth generation rancher on a family-owned ranch in Big Piney. Her ranch includes both BLM and Forest Service managed lands. She received her undergraduate degrees and her law degree in1987 from the University of Wyoming.

Frank, the fourth generation of a Nevada ranching family, also comes from a ranch encompassing federal permits, along with private land.

“During the hard times of the early 1980s,” said Frank in a mid-July phone interview, “I watched several neighbors go out of business. Many of htem were in their late 50s and 60s, wondering how they’d start over.”

That experience, and others like it, inspired Frank to pursue a career in a field where he could serve agriculture. Before attending law school and establishing the law firm with his wife Karen, Frank served as chief administrator for the Washington Cattlemen’s Association. During that time, Frank decided a law degree might make him more effective at protecting agriculture. According to Frank there are two ways to make political headway, votes and legal action. Votes are a hard thing for rural agricultural communities to come by, said Frank.

Karen served for three years as part of the Reagan administration in the Department of the Interior as a special assistant to the assistant secretary for land and minerals management and as staff attorney to the assistant solicitor for water and power. While with the Department of the Interior, Karen assisted with the oversight of the BLM, the Minerals Management Service and the Office of Surface Mining.

Karen has been featured in Newsweek Magazine’s “Who’s Who: 20 for the Future” for her work on property rights issues. She has also presented testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Forest Health, Washington, D.C. and Committee on Resources.

“It’s fair to say we’re both doing what we were born to do,” said Karen, adding, “I wanted to work for the industry and make a living doing it.” As Karen continues, the real passion is about the issue and helping people of agriculture. Laughing, she added, “We’re the only non-profit, for profit company I know of.”

Frank’s specialty lies with permit renewals and more recently the attempt by Bruce Babbitt to deny permit holders the right to turn out their cattle prior to the completion of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, a process that federal agencies were behind on. Frank, on behalf of the permit holders, asked for a preliminary injunction. As their day in court came closer the Department of the Interior, under the directorship of Babbitt, backed down.

Frank describes permit renewal as a “battle we have to win.” The law is on our side, said Frank. Losing the precedent of grazing, said Falen, leaves permit holders in a very vulnerable position. This is a fact Frank said environmentalists know quite well and is the reason they are challenging the way NEPA applies to federal grazing.

Karen works extensively with endangered species litigation. Most recently, she was a victory that forces the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to economic costs and harm in establishing critical habitats under the Endangers Species Act (ESA). Environmentalists, at a meeting attended shortly after by Frank, described the outcome of the case as Armageddon on the ESA.

Karen also saw a victory establishing the precedent that economic effects must be addressed during the NEPA process. New national policy, catered to those case outcomes, has been written. “Finally, we are able to show the American public the costs associated with the ESA,” said Karen. “That’s something the public has never seen before. This is more than a legal case, but also a public relations issue.”

Looking back at their involvement in Wyoming’s agricultural industry Frank said, “When we were thinking about doing this line of work, all we could really think about is the opportunity to help folks. The thing you don’t think about is how it fells that last few nights before you go into a hearing, knowing the livelihoods of your clients are at risk. Initially, you never think about being involved in losing and how that feels. Fortunately, we’ve had more wins than losses.”

“We would like to be able to preserve the industry so our kids can ranch instead of practice law,” Karen said. “I do this as a cause. I absolutely believe in what I am doing.”

Karen and Frank have two children, Isaac, 7, and Sara, 5. Karen has adapted her schedule to be at home when the kids arrive home from school. “We’re a family-friendly firm,” adds Frank. “Our employees get all the time they need off for family reasons.”