Feds Force Rancher to Bid Adieu to Red River Land?

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RED RIVER VALLEY -- The recent dust-up between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management has raised eyebrows among many Americans who feel the federal government exercises too much control.

During the April 12 confrontation, federal agents had been trying to confiscate cattle from Bundy, who the BLM says has been illegally grazing his herd on government land for the past 20 years.

The flap comes amid another fight in Texas that's been raging between the Lone Star State's ranchers and the BLM for decades.

Red River Dispute

Since 1803, there has been some dispute over the boundary line between Oklahoma and Texas, along the Red River. Years ago the courts decided that the boundary stood on the vegetation line, on the south side.

But as the river has moved over time, it's caused a problem: Oklahoma says whenever the river moves south, Oklahoma picks up more land. But when it moves back north, the property boundary stays where it is.

Texas disagrees - especially ranchers like Tommy Henderson who own land along the river.

"The BLM has definitely had a change of personality in the last 30 years," he said.

Henderson's family has raised cattle and cotton along the Red River for more than a hundred years. He bought the land from his aunt 30 years ago with a loan from the Federal Housing Administration.

"They blessed the property -- they inspected the property, a different government agency -- they said it was fine, the deed was fine, the title was fine," he recalled.

"Everything was good, and loaned the money to buy it with," he continued. "But then just five years later, I lost it in a court of law."

A Land Grab?

Using Oklahoma's definitions of "erosion," the federal government decided Henderson never actually owned 140 acres bordering the river.

"This is the Oklahoma border marker right here," Henderson said. "We're a mile and a quarter away from the river."

"They took a 140 acres out of 386, took a little over a third of this property," he continued. "And they come in and surveyed it and they said that this is BLM property. There was no compensation for the property."

On top of that, he had to continue paying the mortgage.

"I still had to pay back the lending institution because if I didn't, they'd come get everything else," Henderson told CBN News.

On BLM website, the agency asserts, "The BLM is categorically not expanding federal holdings along the Red River." 

What it is doing is re-visiting the Henderson ruling and calling for new boundary surveys of public lands along the river. The result could give the feds back control of up to 90,000 acres of private land.

Gene Hall, director of public relations for the Texas Farm Bureau, said the BLM is engaged in a "land grab."

"It's a little different in that they claim that they have always owned it," Hall said. "We think that's nonsense."

"We have a group of members on this border who have bought this property, some of it as much as a century ago," he added. "Land that is patented by the state of Texas, land that they have paid taxes on for a hundred years, and that they have deeds to."

"So it's clearly a land grab," he said. "We don't understand why the BLM is engaged in trying to take this property away."

A Disturbing Pattern

Hall said the border dispute with Oklahoma isn't the worst example of government overreach. The Environmental Protection Agency is also attempting to "redefine" existing law.

"This move is part of a disturbing pattern: BLM is aggressive and they're moving in in this area," Hall told CBN News.

"This is nothing like Nevada, but what it is similar to is the Clean Water Act and some of the other things they are doing in the EPA where the federal government seems to want to take control of every mud hole in America, every ditch, standing water, even land that is not even wet most of the time," he explained.

"But the permitting of that will be outrageously expensive - farmers and ranchers will have to deal with it," he continued. "They say farming and ranching activities are exempt; we don't think so. We think that they are out to regulate every foot of ground in America that water even touches at some point in time."

"No one is interested in fouling the water and the air where they live," Hall stated. "Bear in mind they live out there; they drink the water from wells in most cases. Farmers and ranchers are not the problem when it comes to clean water and shouldn't have to carry the burden of a punitive regulatory process."

The Real Environmentalists

Sid Miller raises horses and owns a nursery in Stephenville, Texas. Now he's running for state agricultural commissioner.

"You know, I'm a true environmentalist," Miller told CBN News. "I'm a steward of the land. If I don't take care of the land, it doesn't take care of my family. So I'm very conscious about that."

"In 2006, there was a Supreme Court decision dealt with the Clean Water Act. And the Supreme Court said the EPA has jurisdiction only over waters in rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans," Miller said.

"They are just subverting Congress, subverting the Supreme Court, and by rule, in-house rule, they are attempting to change that and lay claim to water anywhere it hits a navigable waterway. It could buy a dry ditch, an arroyo, or a cow trail or anything," he said.

Miller claims the government threatens Texas farmers more than the record-breaking drought that's hit this area the last five years.

"The greatest threat to the American farmer and rancher is not the drought or high feed prices or high fertilizer prices or the cost of diesel. It's actually an overreaching federal government," said. 

"Forty-five percent of the land west of the Mississippi belongs to the federal government," he noted.

"If you want to stimulate the economy and get this country growing again, put that in the hands of the private individual," he challenged. "We'll make it productive. We're better stewards of the land than the government is."

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Chuck Holton

Chuck Holton

CBN News Reporter

Chuck Holton has been producing high-octane features and news for CBN since 2003. He has freelance reported from nearly all of the world's hot spots, including Afghanistan, Burma, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.