Abbott writes federal agency about its plans for land in Texas

04/23/2014 8:33 AM

04/23/2014 8:34 AM

Does the federal government plan to take control of 90,000 acres of Texas land along the Red River?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is the latest state official asking that question in relation to a looming U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision about what to do with a swath of federal and American Indian land in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — including the acreage in Texas along a 116-mile stretch of the Red River.

On Tuesday, Abbott sent a letter to Neil Kornze, BLM director, seeking information about the agency’s plans for the land, some of which North Texans have long considered theirs, using it for cattle grazing and growing crops.

“Private landowners in Texas have owned, maintained and cultivated this land for generations. Despite the long-settled expectations of these hard-working Texans along the Red River, the BLM appears to be threatening their private property rights by claiming ownership over this territory,” wrote Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor. “Yet, the BLM has failed to disclose either its full intentions or the legal justification for its proposed actions. Decisions of this magnitude must not be made inside a bureaucratic black box.”

The bureau, the federal government’s trustee for nearly 250 million acres of public land and 700 million acres of mineral rights, is currently updating resource management plans in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — designating how the land will be used for the next 15 to 20 years. The agency has yet to decide whether it will close off parts of the land or make it open to the public.

Paul McGwire, an agency spokesman, said the disputed land has not been fully surveyed, and that the agency hopes a new survey will clear up the confusion about its ownership.

“It’s been mischaracterized in different forms, as if BLM is coming to seize land or take land in some form,” he said. “That is definitely not the case.”

At issue is whether that plan will include lands that locals have long considered theirs. The land bureau, citing a 1924 U.S. Supreme Court opinion and court rulings on two landowner disputes during the 1980s, says the land in question belongs neither to Texas nor Oklahoma — even if locals have bought it from one another and continue to pay taxes on it.

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