Congressman Mac Thornberry was in Wichita Falls last week to tout a bill he claims will protect private property along the Red River from federal ownership claims.
Rep. Thornberry, R-Clarendon, met with officials from Clay, Wichita and Wilbarger counties on Wednesday, July 2 to discuss the Red River Private Property Protection Act, a bill designed to provide legal certainty to landowners. The bill seeks to end questions about the federal government’s ownership of disputed lands along the Red River. U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, is expected to introduce a similar bill.
The Bureau of Land Management announced in December that was beginning the process of revising a resource management plan for federal lands, and estimated that some 90,000 acres of property along the Red River that are public domain, much of which is deeded to landowners. The land lies between the 98th meridian in the Stanfield community of Clay County, west to Wilbarger County where the North Fork of the Red River flows into the Red River.
The BLM has since reduced the estimate to 45,000 acres. Tommy Henderson of Byers, who has become a spokesperson for landowners along the Red River said in a May meeting with the BLM that he has no doubt some of the land along the Red River in public domain, but he believes it to be only a few hundred acres spread out across the three counties.
According to a statement released by Thornberry’s office, the congressman and his staff have held “multiple” meetings and phone calls and has shared correspondence with landowners, as well as local and state officials, to coordinate action. He has been working with house congressional committees and Senators Cornyn and Ted Cruz on how to address the situation.
Thornberry has asked the House Resources Committee, which oversees the BLM and all public land issues, to hold a hearing on the legislation at the earliest possible date.
Thornberry’s bill would direct the BLM to relinquish and transfer by quit claim deed any land in Texas along the Red River to a landowner who can prove through official state or county records that they have full ownership of the land; require the BLM to issue a public notice of the process and accept all legitimate claims of ownership; and establish a 120-day time period in which the BLM must act on a request. The bill also would prevent the BLM from including any privately owned acres in a resource management plan.