Karen Budd Falen was the Deputy Solicitor for Parks and Wildlife in the Department of Interior for three years, and she left with the rest of the Trump administration, capping off a notable career in opposing public lands. She appears to come by that view honestly, being raised on a Wyoming ranch and representing ranchers as an attorney (including the Bundys). She reflects in this short piece on her legacy of changing the Endangered Species Act regulations and National Environmental a Policy Act regulations to promote more “local control” (as well as with the Land and Water Conservation Fund).
I take issue with her arguments in both cases that the laws the regulations implement (ESA and NEPA) were intended to allow social and economic considerations to play the role she has provided for them. These statutes are both clearly aimed at the “natural environment,” and not local “custom and culture.” Remarkably, she appears to admit that, “the listing of a species should be based only on science,” but then she has made it harder to do that with various changes in the ESA implementing regulations (which go beyond those she describes here in relation to critical habitat).
My fundamental disagreement with her and those she represents concerns this statement (and I suspect it may be a reason for differing opinions on this blog):
In my view, local elected officials should have more sway on issues directly affecting them than someone from midtown New York who has never faced the realities of making a living from the land.
The major gloss-over here is that endangered wildlife and federal lands don’t belong more to local people and their elected officials. Her view that local interests should have more influence is not supported by either of these laws, and it is not the view held by most of the people that these resources do belong to. Should the Biden administration not reverse these regulations, courts will have another opportunity to slap down the misinformation from her, and organizations she has worked for like the Mountain States Legal Foundation, that has led to ideas like “county supremacy” limiting how national forests are managed.
(Here is a little background from just before Trump decided she could not get confirmed as BLM Director.)