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Apr 23 2014

Bundy Ranch 2: Red River Rumble?

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Many are familiar Bundy Ranch situation and how a dispute over grazing rights turned into an armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Some have questioned whether the standoff was ever really about conservation of a tortoise (the original BLM claim), or whether it was about seizing land for energy purposes. Regardless of the intent, the BLM has now turned its focus to 90,000 acres of privately-held land along the 116 mile Red River border between Texas and Oklahoma.

According to BLM documents the land grab is part of an investigation into the ownership of 263 million acres of land in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. The documents plainly state that 593,000 acres are split-estate land – “private land with federal mineral interests.” The rest of the land is currently under the control of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Texas officials and ranchers are both worried, and fear that the BLM is planning a large-scale repeat of a 1986 incident in which the agency seized 140 acres of private property. The land was seized from Texas rancher Tommy Henderson, who has been fighting the BLM for nearly 30 years. During the incident, the BLM claimed that Texas never had the authority to deed the land to private owners, making any private land holdings null and void. Therefore, they stated, the land was actually under federal control. The land in question happened to be part of Henderson’s ranch along the Red River; he sued the federal government and lost. The BLM took the land and never gave Henderson any payment, despite his deed and years of property taxes.

The land the BLM has its eyes on has been under scrutiny since the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. However in 1922, the Supreme Court attempted to settle the boundary dispute in Oklahoma v. Texas by declaring the boundary between the two states as defined by wooden stakes along the riverbank. In 2000, the two states agreed to a Red River Boundary Compact that defined the border as the southern vegetation line. There’s still some open debate on the official state lines due to natural sediment build up and erosion, which constantly changes the shape and position of the river. The BLM aims to settle this debate by simply confiscating the land.

Besides making a mockery of private property rights, the BLM seizure would significantly alter state lines, would hinder ranching practices down river, would close off grazing land, and could make some Texas families into Oklahoma residents overnight.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has written a letter to the BLM saying, “Come and Take It”, but is hoping that the situation can be handled legally. He states that the BLM has not disclosed any legal justifications for the grab or their intentions for the land. He states that the federal government is in direct violation of both states’ rights and private property rights

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