The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has published a snapshot of how North Texans viewed a disputed 116-mile stretch along the Red River — one taken months before state officials lambasted the federal government for an alleged “land grab.”
Though many locals said they feared losing land they depend on and consider theirs to the federal government, others objected to encroachments from dirt bikers, four-wheelers, feral hogs and trespassers. A few said methamphetamine labs had cropped up on the land law enforcement officers seldom patrol.
That’s according to the bureau’s “Scoping Summary Report,” a document published Thursday as part of the agency's efforts to designate what to do with lands deemed public in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. That region includes about 90,000 acres along the Red River, many of which locals have long held the deeds to and paid taxes on.
Confusion about who owns the land is rooted in two centuries of litigation and the river's ever-changing path. The story made national headlines in April when Attorney General Greg Abbott — backed by Gov. Rick Perry and a host of Texas Republicans — disputed the bureau’s legal interpretation of its ownership of the land and challenged the federal government to “come and take it.”
The research for the report included 683 comments from 134 commenters, half of whom where Texans. The comments were submitted to the bureau before Jan. 31.
Twenty-six comments touched on whether a 1920s U.S. Supreme Court case pitting Texas against Oklahoma should give the federal government possession of the strip of land. The bureau received 40 comments concerning disposing of or acquiring federal lands — many of which contented that the Red River lands should be kept as is or returned to private owners.
“Our farm alone has been under deed over 100 years,” one unidentified commenter said. “Not only would we lose our source of income and livelihood for our family, but many other land owners on each side of the Red River will be affected by this administration's land grab!"
“No one cares more for the land than those who make a living off of it,” another said. “To take away private property owners' rights and try to establish a plan on land the BLM is in actuality removed from is a contentious proposition.”
More than a quarter of the comments related to how the Red River land should be used, and whether it should be opened to the public.
Many said they would like to see the river land opened to horseback riding, hiking, biking or fishing. But several others called the area dangerous, home to quicksand, erosion and wildfires, and said public access would exacerbate those conditions.
“People by the hundreds flock to the river on warm days with ATVs, guns and trash they drive anywhere and everywhere,” a commenter said. “They shoot their guns at all times of day and night. The wildlife is suffering, the land is hurting, local landowners are frustrated, this land needs to be managed by BLM, the states or private landowners."
Paul McGuire, spokesman for the bureau, said it will next “develop and analyze various alternatives identified by the public.”
“This will involve in-depth environmental, socio-economic, legal and regulatory analysis. Local, state and tribal interests will continue to weigh heavily in this process," he said in an email. "As such, broad-based public involvement remains critical.”
The BLM's draft resource management plan is due within two years. At the earliest, it says it will finalize the plan by 2018. Meanwhile, locals are still receiving tax estimates on the disputed land — regardless of whether they technically own it.