Measure protects landowners embroiled in Red River boundary clash
Local landowners tangled up in the Red River boundary dispute will reap protection against what some have called a federal land grab if Congress approves legislation next week.
A provision in the Natural Resources Management Act lays down rules for a $1 million survey of a hotly disputed stretch of the Red River boundary between Oklahoma and Wichita, Clay and Wilbarger counties in North Texas.
If approved, the rules will be a check on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management while hoisting more power over to the states and Native American tribes involved, officials said. They will also protect landowners already stung by faulty BLM mapping that threatened private acres.
“This bill takes another step in helping to provide property owners the assurance they deserve to know where public lands end and private lands begin,” U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, Wichita Falls’ congressman, said in a statement Friday.
The legislation is the latest twist in a more than decade-long clash over 116 miles of the Texas-Oklahoma border. Landowners who’ve paid taxes and held title to property have been pitted against the BLM, which oversees lands for federally recognized tribes.
The agency has claimed ownership of a narrow strip along the southern half of the Red River involving Apache, Comanche and Kiowa interests. But the BLM hasn’t mapped borderlines to the satisfaction of Texas landowners and lawmakers.
To that end, President Trump signed off on $1 million set aside for a survey of the disputed border last year.
Under current law, the BLM can survey the area with its own surveyors and without input from the states.
That doesn’t sit well with Wichita County Precinct 3 Commissioner Barry Mahler.
“We certainly want an independent surveyor doing it and not the BLM because the BLM will make it come out to their advantage,” Mahler said.
He stands to get his wish in the provision set to come before Congress next week.
It stipulates the BLM must use independent, third-party surveyors picked in consultation with the states and the tribes.
The legislation gives states full veto power over the survey, protecting private property rights and ensuring an accurate accounting of the border, officials said.
Specifically, the BLM can only implement the completed survey or parts of it with written approval from the tribes, the Texas General Land Office and the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office.
Even with $1 million set aside, the BLM has not moved forward with the survey, officials said. Agency officials indicated they awaited rule-making legislation.
The provision is part of a package of more than 100 land bills included in the Natural Resources Management Act, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. John Cornyn. The package has wide bipartisan support.
Thornberry, R-Clarendon, and Cornyn, R-Texas, have been continuously working on the boundary issue and drafted the legislation together.
“This legislation will ensure that the federal government will make no claim and has no rightful claim to their property,” Cornyn said Friday in a media release.