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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott speaks during an anti-abortion rally at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, July 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Mike Stone) Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott speaks during an anti-abortion rally at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas, July 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Mike Stone)  

Greg Abbott slams BLM’s potential seizure of private lands

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott slammed the federal Bureau of Land Management’s claims that private property within the state now belongs to the federal government.

The BLM says the federal government owns a 90,000 acre piece of land along Texas’s Red River, despite it being maintained and cultivated by private landowners for generations and no law has been passed by Congress giving BLM ownership of the land.

In the wake of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with federal agents over desert tortoise habitat in Nevada, Abbott — who is currently running for governor — argues that BLM’s plans to seize the Red River lands “threaten to upset long-settled private property rights.”

“I am deeply concerned about the notion that the Bureau of Land Management believes the federal government has the authority to swoop in and take land that has been owned and cultivated by Texas landowners for generations,” Abbott wrote in a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornz.

“The BLM’s newly asserted claims to land along the Red River threaten to upset long-settled private property rights and undermine fundamental principles—including the rule of law—that form the foundation of our democracy,” Abbott added. “Yet, the BLM has failed to disclose either its full intentions or the legal justification for its proposed actions. Decisions of this magnitude must not be made inside a bureaucratic black box.”

How can the federal government just take over private land? About a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Oklahoma v. Texas that the boundary between the two states was at the gradient line of the Red River’s south bank. But federal regulators have never really agreed with the court’s decision.

In 1994, the BLM said that the Red River area “cannot be defined until action by the U.S. Congress establishes the permanent state boundary between Oklahoma and Texas.” But the BLM also said that legislation defining the “south geologic cut bank as the boundary” would have given up to 90,000 acres of land to the federal government.

Congress did enact legislation in 2000, but the bill did not heed the BLM’s advice. Instead, lawmakers ratified the boundary pact agreed to by Oklahoma and Texas, putting the boundary at “the vegetation on the south bank of the Red River” and not the “south geologic cut bank” like the BLM wanted.

But still the BLM is eyeing the lands near Red River for federal takeover. A BLM document from last November obtained by Breitbart Texas shows that the agency is conducting “a scoping period where they are gathering facts on land whose ownership they believe to be in question in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.” This will help the BLM develop a Resource Management Plan for the 263 million acres of land, which Abbott fears could propose a federal takeover of some Texans’ private property.

“I understand that your office is in the early stages of developing a plan—known as a Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (RMP/EIS)—to regulate the use of federal lands along a 116-mile stretch of the Red River,” Abbott said. “Despite the long-settled expectations of these hard-working Texans along the Red River, the BLM appears to be threatening their private property rights by claiming ownership over this territory.”

“Yet, the BLM has failed to disclose either its full intentions or the legal justification for its proposed actions,” Abbot added. “Decisions of this magnitude must not be made inside a bureaucratic black box.”

Abbot, a Republican, will face off against Democrat Wendy Davis in the governor’s race this fall.

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