OUR LAND IS OUR LAND: A STORY OF HOPE AND VICTORY AGAINST BLM OVERREACH
As we all know, the relationship between the Bureau of Land Management and the agriculture community is sketchy at best, especially with such instances as their victorious retrial of an ‘eco-terrorism’ charge against two ranchers in which the BLM thought the original sentence was too lenient. Today, however, we are reporting on their defeat at the hands of a Texas farmer after 3 decades of fighting.
Tommy Henderson, a Texas farmer and current owner of the land passed through his family since 1904, recently received a patent for his land that has been in dispute since 1984.
In April of 2014, many Texas officials, including the then Attorney General Greg Abbott, then Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, General of Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson, state senator Craig Esters, U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry, labored to get the BLM to release the 90,000 acres of disputed land currently held by the BLM back to the farmers. Henderson is the first fruit of those labors.
To regain ownership of his family’s land, Henderson used the “Color of the Title” Act. This act was supposed to enable landowners to buy the disputed land if they can show clear title, payment of taxes, improvements and “good faith” possession. However, until recently the BLM did not have someone who had gone through the process before, and the laws surrounding the act were constantly changing. This made the process exponentially longer.
In fact, Henderson had filed for “Color of the Title” rights YEARS ago, but after many calls regarding the status of his case he was told that his paperwork had been ‘misplaced.’
They also added to the process by requiring needles checks on the land for endangered species.
Finally, and thanks to the dedication of Henderson, the elected officials, and the Texas Farm Bureau, he was able to buy back his own land for $1.25 per acre.
It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. It took over 30 years for the federal government to correct their mistake of taking his land from him, he only got a portion of the land back, and he had to pay to get it. But, he said, “I can live with that.” This case clears the way and makes easier the process for other farmers like Henderson to regain claim to their land, unrightfully stripped from them so long ago. And, he is pursuing action on his other plots of land.
The Response of Elected Officials
Simply put, in the words of U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry, “They (the federal government) seem to have a reckless disregard for the rights of the property owners involved.”
Thornberry also filed legislation with Sen John Cornyn to protect the landholders, which he will continue to pursue despite Henderson’s victory. He intends to defend “private property rights and clear up the uncertainty that many landowners along the Red River face.”
Two other landowners applied for similar patents and were denied.
Donna Hummel, the spokesperson for the BLM said that they are ready to work with landowners but, she said, Color of Title patents must conform to a 1923 Supreme Court Decision on boundaries of the Red River and not state interpretations.
She continued on to say that the use of the land in dispute has been halted until the situations can be resolved, leaving thousands of acres with farming potential unusable.
Gregg Abbott, now as Governor of Texas, recently reemerged in the battle for land owner rights and on October 16th sent a letter to the Director of the BLM, Neil Kornze. His letter was in response to a BLM meeting that “made clear that the federal government persists in its efforts to take control of land along the Texas-Oklahoma border.”
In that letter he reminded the BLM of their previous correspondence regarding the land dispute and said, “My fellow Texans and I are still waiting for an answer. The BLM has yet to identify what land the federal government newly claims as its own. The BLM has yet to identify the legal basis for that claim. And the BLM has yet to identify the process by which Texans can protect their land and private property rights.”
In regards to the Henderson victory, he wrote, “Explaining to landowners that the process is long and complex, that surveys will be done or that landowners will eventually be able to file “color of title” lawsuit is neither solution nor solace. Instead, it is an illegal taking. These actions harm Texans now by clouding the title to the land their families have owned for generations.
In conclusion he brought up constitutionality, saying, “Our Constitution – the same Constitution you have taken an oath to uphold – rests on the principle that governments are created to protect private property owners’ rights, not destroy them. This principle is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment of our founding document. The BLM should demonstrate that the federal government still respects private property rights and end this unconscionable land grab.”
We stand with Governor Abbott.
Yes, there was a small victory for one farmer in Texas. But, out of over 90,000 acres of disputed land, his victory amounts too little but hope and a restricted path to regaining land that should not have been taken in the first place.
The BLM has taken egregious actions against farmers all throughout their history; this is just another example of their habitual overreach.
Do you think, like we do, that the feds need to give back their wrongfully taken land? Or, at very least, show the legality of that land’s procurement?