Many of you have expressed concern about the potential for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to claim Texas land along the Red River as public domain.
The BLM is in the process of updating its Resource Management Plan (RMP) for lands managed by the BLM, which includes a 116 mile stretch of the Red River on the border between Texas and Oklahoma in Wilbarger, Wichita, and Clay counties.
At a public meeting in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 2013, the BLM stated there is an estimated 90,000 acres of land along the 116 mile stretch of the Red River that may be considered public domain. This estimate has since been cut to 30,000 at most. This caused immediate concern that the federal government was claiming to own some of the land to which private individuals had deeds.
The entire section of the river has never been surveyed by the BLM, and the portions that the agency most recently surveyed appear to stray widely from the accepted gradient boundary survey method established by the Supreme Court in the 1920s.
Most landowners along the River are now unsure if the land that they have held titles to and have paid taxes on, in some cases for generations, will remain in their families or be subject to federal ownership. This uncertainty clouds the title and threatens the value of privately owned land.
It is essential that this issue be firmly and finally resolved so that landowners can be sure of their titles.
To help settle the question of ownership, I introduced legislation in the 113th Congress along with Senator John Cornyn (H.R. 4979 and S. 2537). The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands held a legislative hearing on H.R. 4979 on July 29, 2014. On December 22, 2014, the Committee amended the bill and reported it to the full House. However, it was not taken up for a vote before the end of the Congress.
This Congress, I introduced an updated version of the bill as H.R. 2130 along with Senator Cornyn (S.1153). H.R. 2130 reflects the input received from landowners, the Texas General Land Office, and many others. This bill was passed out of the House Resources Committee on September, 10, 2015, by a vote of 21 to 11. The bill passed the full House on December 9, 2015 by a vote of 253-177. There is still some work to do in the Senate, but this is a good, positive step forward for the bill. We will continue pushing with the Senate.
Summary of H.R. 2130 - Red River Private Property Protection Act
H.R. 2130 requires the BLM to commission a survey along the 116-mile stretch of the Red River using the gradient boundary survey method developed and backed by the Supreme Court to determine the proper ownership boundary between public and private land. The survey must be conducted within 2 years by Licensed State Land Surveyors and approved by the Texas General Land Office in consultation with The Commissioners of the Land Office in Oklahoma.
After the survey is approved, affected landowners have the option to appeal the survey to an administrative law judge. Landowners are then given the chance to file for a modified Color-of-Title Act request for public land that has been held in good faith and in peaceful adverse possession. The cost of the patented land is set at $1.25 an acre, and all minerals contained in the patented land are reserved to the United States.
After the boundary between public and private land is settled, the BLM is required to sell the remaining federal land along the Red River at no less than fair market value. However, the adjacent landowners must be given the first rights of refusal.
H.R. 2130 also requires that a resource management plan adhere to the requirements in the bill, and it explicitly states that nothing in the language will affect or modify the Red River Boundary Compact, land already patented under the Color-of-Title Act, or the sovereignty rights of federally recognized Indian tribes over lands located to the north of the South Bank boundary line.
Questions or Comments
By providing legal certainty to landowners, the Red River Private Property Protection Act seeks to end any questions about the federal government's ownership of disputed land along the Red River.
Please feel free to email me your thoughts and concerns here. I always appreciate hearing from you.
1. Text of H.R. 2130
2. BLM Map of Red River Management Area