The Bureau of Land Management, BLM, is a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Its function is to manage America’s federal public land. According to its website, it manages more than 245 million acres and 700 million acres of subsurface minerals. The BLM was formed in 1946 by merging the federal General Land Office with the U.S. Grazing service. Since that time, BLM has been involved in many land disputes. Is the Bureau of Land Management making a Texas land grab? – lawsuit filed by land owners.
The bed of the Red River has officially been used as a boundary between Texas and Oklahoma since 1803. It became the property of the United States in 1838 through a treaty with the Republic of Texas. In a dispute between the U.S. government and Oklahoma in 1922, the Supreme Court ruled that if the Red River riverbanks changed over time due to erosion or gradual changes, the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma was to follow the river. But, if a sudden change in the course of the river, called avulsion, occurred, the boundary lines were to revert to the 1819 treaty between Spain and the United States. That treaty sets out that the boundary between the states was the south bank of the Red River.
After a long history of boundary disputes, Texas and Oklahoma entered into the Red River Boundary Red River Boundary Compact in 2000. The compact moved the boundary line beyond the bank to the vegetation line. The compact stated that private property owners and Tribal lands were not to be affected by the compact. Because of that language, the 1922 Supreme Court decision is the controlling legal doctrine.
The BLM is claiming that it owns approximately 90,000 acres along the Red River that Texas property owners have deeds to and have been paying taxes on for years and, in some cases, for generations. Since the Red River has changed its course over time, their calculations could be accurate.
It does not seem fair that the BLM could take a big chunk of your land simply because the river changed and, as a result, boundaries changed or because, as BLM claims, Texas deeded land when they did not have a legal right to do so. The land owners feel the same way. Seven of them have filed a lawsuit against the BLM to try to save their land. To date, Texas government officials are backing the property owners, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has joined the lawsuit.
It would seem that one of the keys to resolving the dispute is determining whether the Red River’s boundaries moved through erosion, or through avulsion. The other may be proving that Texas deeded land to private citizens when it had no right to do so. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out in court.
There is a lot of rhetoric flying around the Internet that this situation is just like the Cliven Bundy 2014 dispute with BLM. That is far from the truth! In that situation, Bundy grazed his cattle on federal land and refused to pay grazing permit fees. His stated reason was that he decided to refuse to accept the authority of the federal government over land and refuses to accept federal laws. That situation was very different; he was using public land for personal gain.