Texas AG Fights for Private Property Owners against Federal Land Claims

Published April 27, 2016

A U.S. District court in Texas recently approved the State of Texas as an intervening party to a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) claim to own more than 90,000 acres on the Red River along Texas-Oklahoma border, land historically considered private property. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is intervening in support of several private landowners who claim the BLM is attempting to seize property they own. The original suit was filed in federal court by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for the American Future on the behalf of seven families who own the land in question and local counties along the banks of the Red River.

Federal Planning Sparks Lawsuit

While land disputes in the area date back to the early 20th century, the most recent dispute arose when representatives from the Bureau of Land Management visited North Texas in 2015 to create a Resource Management Plan for a 116-mile stretch along the Red River from near Doan’s Crossing in Wilbarger County, through Wichita County and to the small Clay County community of Stanfield describing how the land would be used in the next 20 years.

At issue is differing definitions of the gradient boundary — the midpoint between the river bed and where the water crests over the cut bank — between Texas landowners and surveyors and the BLM. 

The families have deeds for the land in question and have and have paid taxes on it for decades.

“Rather than just getting into a tit-for-tat with them, we, I would say, have gone above and beyond and amended to not only include the legal descriptions, but also attached certified copies of the recorded deeds for all of our clients even though we didn’t need to,” Robert Henneke, the general counsel and director of the Center for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, was quoted as saying in the Wichita Falls Times Record, in response to a motion to dismiss filed by BLM claiming the original suit didn’t adequately describe the property in question.

“We certainly don’t have anything to hide and we’re up front,” said Henneke. “We’ve got all our cards on the table as far as where we’re coming from.” 

The BLM’s claims to own the land based upon a 1929 ruling Supreme Court ruling. Landowners, counter they have deeds long recognized by the State of Texas and counties to the land under dispute – deeds BLM never challenged before. 

“Washington D.C. needs to hear, loud and clear, that Texas will not stand for the federal government’s infringement upon Texas land and the property rights of the people who live here,” said Attorney General Paxton in a press release. “The federal government must follow the law and recognize our correct borders, consistent with decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court defining the boundary formed by the Red River.”

U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry has attempted to get Congress involved in the dispute. The House of Representatives passed the “Red River Private Property Protection Act” a bill sponsored by Thornberry in early December 2015. Thornberry’s bill would establish clearly the land in question was owned by those property owners who have exercised control over, operated upon, paid taxes on and could show proof of ownership to the land, ending BLM’s claims. The Senate has yet to take up Thornberry’s bill.

Michael McGrady ([email protected]writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.