Texas General Land Office Intervenes in BLM Suit; Land Commissioner to Feds: “Don’t Mess with Texas”

For seven North Texas Families along the Red River that continue their fight against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, more help is on the way.

The families got a boost last week when Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush officially filed documents in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas requesting to join in the families’ lawsuit that charges the BLM with perpetuating an “arbitrary seizure” of land along the Texas side of the river.

The BLM claims that the 116-mile stretch along the river is federal land, which the agency says has been under its control since the Louisiana Purchase. Bush views it as a blatant land grab, and argues that the land, more specifically 113 acres in Wilbarger County, and the mineral rights associated with it, belong to the GLO. The Land Commissioner also claims that the tract is part of the Texas Permanent School Fund, the land mechanism designed in 1876 to aid in the financing of the state’s public schools.

The GLO initially owned the rights to about 78 acres along the river in Wilbarger County. Due to the natural, gradual northward movement, the acreage expanded to 113 acres, and it is these additional 35 acres that the federal agency claims as theirs.

While no one has developed the land to mine for minerals, Bush claims that he had no other option but to join the suit and fight against what he calls a dangerous slippery slope that would threaten Texas’ entire oil and gas portfolio.

“Our primary responsibility here at the General Land Office throughout the course of the state’s history is to be the asset manager and the fiduciary for 13 million acres, which provides a large source of revenue to our public school systems K through 12 and secondary education,” Bush said Monday, November 30. “It’s a vital role, and one we take very seriously, and pursuant to the claims the Bureau of Land Management is laying out to not only affect private land ownership in the vicinity of the Red River but also state acreage, we will file a complaint that will lay out in specific detail the state’s acreage, namely mineral rights in the vicinity of the Red River that are subject to potential land taking.”

The dispute over the land boiled over in December of 2013 when BLM representatives arrived in North Texas to discuss their plans for managing the acreage for the next two decades. The federal agency has said its claim stems from a 1923 Supreme Court decision that defined the boundaries of Texas and Oklahoma and assigned some land in between to the feds.

But Texans, like the families who have filed this current suit, have long held deeds and paid property taxes on this land. Moreover, the bureau has not fully surveyed the area, making it unclear where the public and private boundaries lie.

Bush is the latest Texas official to weigh in on the issue, accusing the Bureau of poorly articulating their claim. In August, I wrote about how U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon) is tackling this issue in Congress, (if you missed it, here’s the story).

To read the GLO’s complaint in intervention, visit here.

To read the GLO’s motion to intervene, visit here.

For a graphic of the location of the land in question, visit here.