As the Bureau of Land Management continues to look at up to 90,000 acres of land along a 116 mile stretch of the Red River they believe may be public, ranchers and farmers are keeping a close eye on their property fearing a possible land grab.
On Tuesday, BLM officials are speaking out in an effort to calm some of those fears.
Paul McGuire, public affairs specialist with the BLM, says there are four options for land determined public but a local rancher says none of those options are in the best interests of private landowners.
Kenneth McAlister's family has been on land along the Red River between Electra and Burkburnett since the 1950s.
McAlister says 1,200 acres are at stake if the BLM declares the land to be public.
"We have rights to that land," McAlister says. "We have tended and cared for that land. We own the land above it and that land was accreted to us over the years because our taking care of it."
In addition, McAlister says he depends on the land to survive and if its taken away, it will also take away his livelihood.
"When you're talking about a momma cow/calf operation, the simplest way to feed them is with grass and in a pasture and that's where I would be today is if they came and took that," McAlister says. "I would have to look at reducing the size of my cattle herd."
However, McGuire says that is now what the BLM is all about.
He says they are looking at what the best use is of the public land that is in that area.
McGuire says the BLM will have four options with the land that is deemed to be public:
- Close it
- Leave it open
- Open it with limitation
McGuire says disposal is essentially the federal government selling the land back to a private entity or individual.
"That's a perspective that a lot of folks have to the extent that they believe the public land was held in private ownership; that would be their perspective," McGuire says. "BLM's perspective is that the land in question has always been in the public domain. It has never been privately held."
It's a move McAlister says is cheap.
McAlister says, "I wouldn't have no oppositions against that but I think it would be still kind of unfair."
He says, "I've already tended to the land. I've already paid taxes on it. I've already assumed that I take ownership of it. It's been in my family since the late 50s. It's pretty hard to say that it is not ours."
McGuire says comments gathered during a public scoping period will be made available before the end of May and the first draft of BLM's Resource Management Plan will come out in the next two years.