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Red River land lawsuit ends in settlement

A lawsuit between landowners in northern Texas and the federal government over land near the Red River ended in a settlement that specifies the boundaries of federal land and rolls back survey efforts by the Bureau of Land Management.

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.

A nearly 10-year-long saga involving ranchers, federal agents and the Louisiana Purchase came to an end Wednesday when parties in a federal lawsuit reached a settlement.

Seven families owning land by the Red River in northern Texas filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2015 after the bureau began surveying land in 2009 that the families had occupied for generations. The families, represented pro bono by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, claimed the bureau had committed an "arbitrary seizure" of land they maintained and for which they paid taxes. The bureau claimed a 1923 U.S. Supreme Court decision granted the federal government control of the land, based off of agreements originally formed in the Louisiana Purchase.

The settlement details the boundaries of the border between Texas and Oklahoma and the federal land along the Red River. It also cuts back much of the bureau's surveying activity on the land, which originally thrust the dispute into the national spotlight.

Several counties and the Texas General Land Office, which managed land in the disputed area, joined the suit on the side of the families. State leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott supported the families in the dispute, and Attorney General Ken Paxton motioned to intervene on behalf of the state. Some of the land maintained by the General Land Office contained mineral assets that contribute to the Texas Permanent School Fund.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush called the settlement a victory for private property rights and schoolchildren in the state in a Wednesday news release.

"For more than 180 years Texans have stood up against anyone who would attempt to infringe on our property rights," Bush said in the release. "Texans have always defended our land and our rights. At the end of the day, the saying remains true: Don't mess with Texas."

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management deferred comment to a Department of Justice spokesperson, who declined to comment.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Texas General Land Office have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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