Texas rancher Ken Alderholt has been told by the federal government he may not own the land his family has been working on for the past 70 years – even though he has deeds to it.
Alderholt, a second-generation rancher, is one of around 170 property owners in Texas’ Red River valley who have been told that their land is actually federal property under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). For some of them, it’s been in the family for 100-plus years.
“The BLM is saying we should have never had a deed to it — that Texas should have never produced that deed,” Alderholt said of 600 acres his parents bought just before American’s involvement in World War II. He had hoped to pass the land on to his sons.
The story behind the controversy is complex, involving not only the 1803 Louisiana Purchase but even the way the Red River – which divides Texas and Oklahoma – moves over time. The federal government says it has owned the land since the Louisiana Purchase.
Texans just like Alderholt hold deeds on the land and even pay property taxes on it, The Texas Tribune reported. Some families have owned the land that the BLM is trying to claim for more than a century. Landowner Layne Chapman said his family has lived on the land for 130 years.
“I think it’s very difficult to fully understand it,” said Tommy Henderson, another Texan whose had part of his ranch declared BLM land. Henderson’s family has ranched the land for more than 100 years but now part of it is theoretically under BLM control. “To know how we got here, we kind of got to know where we’ve been.”
“It is a land  grab,” Alderholt said of the BLM’s actions. “As far as I am concerned, this is private property.”
Alderholt is one of many property owners concerned about a new BLM management plan being developed for about 30,000 acres. The plan is scheduled to be released in 2018.
“The planning process is intended to allow the federal government, working with the public, to determine how or whether these lands should be managed,” Paul McGuire, a BLM spokesman, told The Dallas Morning News.
One controversial possibility would have the BLM actually seize the land and sell it back to the owners.
“We’re in a limbo position,” property owner Jimmy Smith said, according to The Morning News. “If I wanted to sell my property right now, how would I with this looming over?”
US Rep. Bill Flores, a Texas Republican, called the BLM plan “one of the most blatant land grabs I’ve ever seen.”
“It would be smart of the BLM to change its tune,” he added.
There are a number of proposals to clean up the mess, including a bill that would require the BLM  to transfer the disputed property to ranchers and others who can demonstrate ownership. The legislation has the support of US Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
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