Texas Attorney General and governor candidate Greg Abbott yesterday, Wednesday, Aug. 13, sent a second letter to the Bureau of Land Management protesting the federal government's claim to 90,000 acres along the Red River, according to the Office of the Texas Attorney General. Abbott, who is a native of Wichita Falls and the top law enforcement official in the Lone Star State quoted testimony by landowner Pat Canan at a committee hearing supporting his position. Canan is civic leader in Wichita Falls.
Canan testified that the "very same 90,000 acres that BLM is now attempting to claim as its own is the same land that was deeded by the State of Texas in 1858." Abbott went on to write that Texans like Mr. Canan have owned and paid taxes on this land for generations. Given that it is" inconceivable that the BLM would now come in and simply declare that the federal government owns this land."
Canan also told the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources Subcomittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation that, "The claim by BLM on the 90,000 acres or any acreage along the river has clouded title to my land and has impacted my ability to manage this river bottom. Land sales along the river have come to a standstill and land values along the river have decreased....This land has been bought and sold along the river up until this latest BLM claim."
The Red River is only a stone's throw from Wichita Falls, Texas, and the attempted land grab by the feds has caused many citizens in this city of 105,000 great consternation. Wichita County, of which Wichita Falls is the county seat, actually borders the Red River.
The BLM's intentions to confiscate property owned by Texas citizens grabbed the attention of the national news media when it became public in April of 2014. It came on the heels of another national controversy involving the BLM's proclaimed intentions to kill cattle belonging to a Nevada landowner.
Abbott's letter to Neil Kornze, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, was his second one questioning the BLM's attempted takeover of land already owned by private citizens of Texas along the Red River. In his first letter on April 22, Abbott posed two questions: (l.) what land does the BLM now claim belongs to the federal government; and (2) what is the legal basis for the claim?
Abbott traced the history of the land dispute back to 1994 and a Resource Management Plan Impact Statement for land along the Red River. At that time the BLM said that it could not determine how much land along the Red River belonged to the federal government until the border dispute between Texas and Oklahoma was resolved. Abbott said in his letter that, "As you know, that dispute was resolved by the Red River Boundary Compact in 2000."
Abbott then called the BLM to task for taking inconsistent positions on the Red River land grab. He chided the BLM, saying, "Thus while the BLM previously stated that the Texas-Oklahoma border dispute necessarily impacted land ownership, you now claim that the ratification of the Red River Compact only addressed the state line."
Abbott further said in his published letter to the BLM that, "This evasive answer only worsens the very problem that was highlighted in Mr. Canan's congressional testimony-which is that the BLM's mishandling of this situation has clouded title to thousands of acres and brought Texas land sales along the Red River to a standstill. With that in mind, I reiterate my original question and request that you identify, with specificity, the metes and bounds of private property along the Red River that the BLM now purports to own."
The Texas Attorney General went on to conclude that "Texas landowners deserve better-and they deserve better from their federal government agencies and officials. Hardworking Texans have been cultivating, improving and paying taxes on this land for generations........Of course, litigation can be avoided, and the property rights of all parties can be more quickly resolved, if the BLM were to provide-similar to what has been proposed in recent weeks by Congressman Mac Thornberry-a streamlined process for Texas landowners to confirm (with finality) their ownership rights."
Abbott concludes his letter with the hope the BLM will reconsider its course and directly address claims to private lands in Texas and redress the harm it has already caused to Texans who own property along the Red River.
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