Abbott to Feds: Cease Your "Land Grab"

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott fired a new volley at the Bureau of Land Management Friday, adding to the years-long standoff between the state and the federal agency over the ownership of roughly 90,000 acres along the Red River.

Texas landowner Tommy Henderson speaks to a gathering of politicians, landowners and others at a bridge over the Red River near Byers, Texas, on April 28, 2014.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott fired a new volley at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Friday, adding to the years-long standoff between the state and the federal agency over the ownership of roughly 90,000 acres along the Red River.

In a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze, Abbott said he was requesting for a third time that the agency “cease and desist” its “federal land grab.”

The ownership of the land is highly contested because of a complicated series of court rulings and government documents dating all the way back to the Louisiana Purchase. Some of those rulings draw heavily on highly specific geographic distinctions, such as the Red River’s flow over time.

Much of the acreage is claimed by Texas landowners, who say they’ve raised crops and cattle — and paid taxes on the land — for centuries. The BLM disagrees, saying the land belongs to the federal government. 

This week, the BLM hosted a series of open meetings to collect ideas about how public lands in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — including the contested land south of the Red River — should be used for the next 15 to 20 years. The meetings represent just one step in a years-long process, but to Abbott, they indicate that the BLM isn’t backing down on its ownership claims. 

“As you well know, the BLM’s actions prevent landowners from borrowing against the land to finance business operations or selling the land to new owners looking to cultivate their own economic freedom,” Abbott wrote. “But the implications of your actions are not merely financial. In many cases, your actions threaten to take the very homes above these Texans’ heads.”

BLM spokesman Paul McGuire said the agency is still reviewing the contents of the letter, but added that the agency has always relied on a 1923 U.S. Supreme Court decision — one that clearly delineated the boundaries between Texas and Oklahoma and assigned the federal government ownership of the little bit of space in between — in its plans.

“That’s the definition that BLM relies on,” McGuire told The Texas Tribune.

And in the meantime, there’s no indication that Abbott will back down in the fight against what he refers to as an “unconscionable” land grab.

“The BLM has yet to identify what land the federal government newly claims as its own,” Abbott wrote. “The BLM has yet to identify the legal basis for that claim. And the BLM has yet to identify the process by which Texans can protect their land and property rights. Texas will not wait for answers any longer.”

The governor's office declined to comment further.