Can this mixed marriage work?

  • Bob Budd

    Wyoming Stock Growers Association

ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. - Moving from the Wyoming Stock Growers Association to managing a ranch for The Nature Conservancy is not a major shift, Bob Budd says.

Budd, 37, resigned as executive director of the ranching organization in December to manage the 35,000-acre Red Canyon Ranch, which The Nature Conservancy is acquiring (HCN, 11/29/93). The Fremont County ranch consists of about 5,000 deeded acres and about 30,000 acres in state and federal grazing leases.

"They're as interested as the ranchers are in maintaining the land and in sustainability," Budd says. "If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be going to work for them. ... The Nature Conservancy to my knowledge is not politically involved in raising grazing fees ... and political dogma."

Budd says he still subscribes to the widely held belief among public-lands commodity users and conservative Western congressmen that the Clinton administration and environmental groups are waging a "war on the West."

A special Nature Conservancy logo for the Lander field office reflects the group's effort to identify with the Wyoming ranching community. A green oak leaf - the group's national trademark - is affixed to a cowboy hat in a design on memos sent from the local office.

Budd says there are obviously "zealots" on both sides of the current debate over grazing fee hikes and reform in public-land management. But resolution of the conflict will come only through compromise, he says.

"That's true in every line of work there is," Budd says. "There are zealots, there are people who can see no middle ground, but I don't believe that those kinds of people have ever come to solutions that are good solutions."

Budd says he put himself forward for The Nature Conservancy job to "bridge some of the gaps" between the livestock industry and responsible conservation efforts.

"Somebody has to do this, and I want to do it," Budd says.

Budd's official good-bye address to the stock growers at a mid-winter meeting in Douglas, Wyo., was "emotional for me and for some of them as well," he says. He says most stock grower board members and members have supported his decision to go to work for the Conservancy. Some were puzzled at first, he says, and assumed there were few distinctions among the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and The Nature Conservancy - an assumption Budd says he shared for many years.

A prominent Budd relative and former Sublette County Republican state representative, Dan Budd, remains skeptical.

"I guess everybody is entitled to go to work wherever they want," Dan Budd said in an interview from his Big Piney ranch. "It's certainly not a place that would fit my philosophy or interest. It fits his. I support him."

Dan Budd, who is the father of Karen Budd-Falen, a lawyer active in the wise-use movement, is critical of Nature Conservancy land transactions, which he said result in more land ending up in state and federal ownership. The 1992 Nature Conservancy annual report shows that in that year the organization sold or donated more than $100 million worth of land to state or federal bodies or other conservation organizations.

Though under Wyoming laws the Conservancy could be exempted from property taxes, the Conservancy's Wyoming field office director says the organization elected not to go off the tax rolls.

"We voluntarily pay taxes," Ben Pierce says. "That way we're not negatively impacting the local tax base. That's a state-by-state choice."

The state organization currently has 27,000 acres under conservation easements and owns about 20,000 acres, Pierce said. The easements include 10,000 acres dedicated to bald eagle protection on Casper Mountain, and a 2,000-acre easement on Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop's ranch near Sheridan, Pierce says.

Pierce says The Nature Conservancy hopes that Budd's ranch operations will "demonstrate that ranching and conservation are compatible." The ranch operation is expected to "generate enough income to cover the costs of owning and managing the land," Pierce says.

Budd will be supervised by Rick Studenmund, the Conservancy's director of stewardship, whose background is in botany and land management.

Budd concedes that Studenmund's training and education resemble those of a federal Bureau of Land Management range conservationist. Ranchers often refer pejoratively to these officials as "range cons," and charge that they interfere with the rancher's on-the-ground decisions about use of the public range.

"I'm not worried about that, I've worked for a lot of people," Budd says. "Rick's a fine person. His heart and mind are compatible with what I believe."

Budd says he expects scrutiny, not just from Studenmund, but from ranchers and conservationists in general.

"I would say for the next 12 months everyone in this state is going to be second-guessing me on every decision I make," Budd says. "And I think they should."

Katharine Collins is a staff reporter for the Casper Star-Tribune.

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