THE CURRENT DISPUTE
The federal government is trying to take thousands of acres of Texas land from homeowners and ranchers along the Red River. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the land is inside the river and is therefore public land. But there is a major problem with the BLM’s view: the south bank of the river is about a mile north of where the government says it is. Furthermore, many Texans live on that land, and many others make their livelihoods from farming and ranching (not fishing) on it. These Texans have lived and paid taxes on the land for generations, and they have titles and deeds going back to the 1800’s.
In 2008-2009, the BLM began resurveying its lands along the Texas-Oklahoma border. For reasons only the BLM understands, they marked off land a mile into Texas and claimed it was southern bank of the Red River, thereby transferring many thousands of acres to the government. Residents who owned land along the river protested after discovering survey markers on their property. They explained to the BLM where the river was. They took pictures of the survey markers and river. They wrote letters. They commissioned their own surveys. They filed formal complaints. The BLM nevertheless continues to claim that a dry strip of forest, prairie, ranchland, and farms is a “river.”
Next, the BLM decided to publish a new resource management plan and asked the residents along the Red River for suggestions on how to use the newly claimed land. It also published maps and other information making clear the breadth of its claims: 46,000 to 90,000 acres. Such a broad claim affects all the land along a 116-mile stretch of the Red River.
However, the federal government will not say precisely how much land it purports to own or where exactly the land is; it only provides a vague estimate. As a result, anyone living, ranching, or owning property along the 116-mile stretch is in danger of losing his land. Due to the uncertainty of ownership arising from the BLM’s claim, they cannot sell, borrow against, or improve their land.
At recent meeting in Fort Worth, the public presented these concerns to BLM’s representatives. In particular, they asked for clarity about what the BLM claims to own so that they could plan their lives and take any necessary actions. The officials responded that they had no intention of surveying the land or being clear about what the government thinks its owns because the BLM does not want to spend the money.
The people of North Texas were left with no other option to protect their property rights, so they filed this lawsuit.