HAMILTON — Rep. Theresa Manzella is trying to bring Karen Budd-Falen — a Wyoming-based property rights attorney who is under consideration to head the Bureau of Land Management — to Hamilton Nov. 17-18 to discuss land use policies.
Budd-Falen is is perhaps best known for representing Cliven Bundy of Nevada and other ranchers in their fight over refusing to pay grazing fees to the federal government.
Initially, Manzella wanted Budd-Falen to make a four-hour presentation to the Ravalli County Commission on ways to “add teeth” to the Bitterroot Valley Natural Resource Use Plan, which was adopted in 2012. The forest management section has five goals, and Manzella said she wanted the expertise of Budd-Falen in order to establish a performance matrix to quantify the county’s ability to meet those goals.
“That’s Karen’s area of expertise,” said Manzella, who represents HD 85. “She creates those documents to enable local governments to better interface with the federal government.”
Budd-Falen’s expertise, however, is what drew about a dozen Ravalli County residents to speak in opposition to her giving advice to the commission. She has pushed for major changes to federal authority on public lands.
“If you want to ignite controversy, invite her here,” Dave Campbell told the commission on Monday. “You can have a private meeting and not invite the public, and you know what that sounds like. It will devolve into a debate over who owns public lands and who has the authority to manage public lands.”
Others noted that they have plenty of local expertise if the county’s natural resource use plan is due for an update.
While the commission initially seemed to support listening to Budd-Falen’s four-hour presentation on Nov. 17, after hearing the public comments the commission backed off. They noted the good working relationship between Ravalli County and the U.S. Forest Service, and didn’t want to put that in jeopardy by hosting a meeting for a speaker known to advocate for “transferring public lands to private hands to pay for fire suppression costs,” said Commissioner Jeff Burrows.
“I don’t support it. I don’t even want to hear a proposal for fire suppression costs as a funding mechanism that includes the sale of public lands,” Burrows added. “If it does have to do with how we can better coordinate and cooperate, enhancing our status, I’m happy to hear that.”
On Wednesday, Commissioner Ray Hawk said that Budd-Falen is a kind of “lightning rod” on public land issues, and the county doesn’t need that kind of divisiveness.
“She would be coming here because she wants to advocate for a land use policy; that to me is kind of code for transferring public lands, and we don’t really want to go there,” Hawk said.
Commissioner Greg Chilcott noted that they were concerned with whether they could have any type of productive meeting in her four-hour presentation, noting that many citizens are opposed to her advising the commissioners on land use policies. But he noted that she does have expertise when it comes to the alphabet soup of federal policies — NEPA, FLPMA and ESA, to name a few. He said he would welcome her insight in those areas — the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Manzella is considering hosting Budd-Falen on her own; she’s not sure whether it would be open to the public or an invitation-only event. She believes all five commissioners could attend if she held the meeting, and said that there’s “some ambiguity” on whether public comment would need to be accepted as it is when the county hosts a meeting.
“All they would need to do is properly notice it and they can attend if they so choose,” she said.
On Wednesday, Manzella asked the commission to reconsider hosting the event. Personally, she’s facing a time crunch with the possibility of a special legislative session, and said with the short notice she’s having trouble finding a venue to host Budd-Falen.
“But she does have some time on her schedule to come on the 17th. She could do an evening presentation or a daytime presentation on the 18th,” Manzella said. “This is something she does on a regular basis, offering her expertise to the community.”
Manzella declined to reveal who would cover the expenses of bringing Budd-Falen to Hamilton, but said they’ve received donations from private citizens.
“There are several people within our community who donated and pooled their resources privately. It’s not an organized group,” she said. “I can name them but I’m not going to because it’s still in process and I don’t want to leave anyone out.”