Rio Grande
Administrative History
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A. (From RIGR file: Planning process book, unknown author, probably Project Mgr. Malcom Berg.)

  1. The subject of access has arisen in several cases, is the concern of ranch owners as well as that of the wilderness advocates.

  2. Very important: land grab - this is a generally held view by a cross-section of residents, one variation being that there would be no compensation from the government, and it is going to be difficult to turn around.

  3. Fences, grazing, fishing, the use of motors have been frequent subjects of discussion and concern.

  4. Major item: the wilderness proposals for the Big Bend Area. There is a hangover effect that is going to affect the Rio Grande area; that is, generally the wilderness proposals (in Big Bend National Park during the mid-70's) were to lock up areas where it was unnecessary to do so by virtue of its already being in the park system. So we face the general concern and resentment built up through the wilderness proposal. It is also significant that the Rio Grande is a trade-off on the part of Krueger (Senator at the time) in that the stoppage of the wilderness proposal was traded for the acceptance and establishment of the Rio Grande (W. & S.R.).

  5. Acreage vs. river mileage and the average of 160 acres per mile. One view is that this is just a means to take more land by juggling acreage per mile. There seems to be two views: One that the Rio Grande river should not be designated within the park since that land is already federal; another is that it should be designated throughout the park rather than just part of it. There is some real question about the validity of the statement that the present boundary, (Coahuila/Chihuahua border) was selected for the purpose stated in the study (1975 Bureau of Recreation); that is, at the Mexican government's behest. Another expressed position is that the National Park Service did not include all of the river in Big Bend because to do so would increase the acreage beyond the 50 percent figure and preclude condemnation. (see item 7 for explanation of "50% figure")

  6. (Paraphrased for clarification) The method of averaging acres-per-mile by including those miles within Big Bend National Park is probably correct as far as the legislation is written, but I have serious questions as to how it will be viewed in the eyes of the public and in particular the local land owner(s).

  7. The 50% clause concerning land acquisition and condemnation as stated in 90-542 says that when 50% of the land is federally owned or state owned, you cannot condemn. There would appear to be an exception, that condemnation can be used to insure public access or areas needed for development. (*Ed. note-This 160 ac/mi figure refers to the sum of both fee and less-than-fee acquisitions. See next section for limits on fee acquisition)

  8. Another item of concern that will surely come up or already has in several areas is the general tactic (by opponents) of discrediting (our) studies and documents. In particular, the slightest error will be pointed out and issues raised. A real key to our success is that we listen and that our final product reflect very obviously those items of local opinion.

  9. David Lime and Associates, of the Forest Service river study group in Minnesota, have expressed a great deal of interest in the Rio Grande because it is a significant river, not yet in the state of crisis management. It can be managed effectively, planning can be done effectively, and this can be a significant. contribution to their studies.

  10. The international aspect of the river continues to cause concern, particularly with regard to concessioners and insurance, law enforcement, trespass, and camping. (Ed. Note: These issues are addressed in RIGR files SWRO MEMO - Req. for Solicitors legal Review of EA, LAP, GMP, Plans)

  11. Land ownership is shifting from private to nonresident. It may be pristine now, but can ranchers preserve it 20-50 years from now without help?

  12. Constitutionality of the RIGR inclusion under the Act (P.L. 95-625) has been questioned regarding the language relating to rivers within the nation. The concerns, in essence are: since this one is half within Mexico, is it legal under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act?

    (*Ed. Note: This refers to the wording, which states ...certain select rivers of the nation..." One view questions the legality of including the Rio Grande because it is shared by two nations).

B. The failure to gain Mexico's agreement to protect it's side of the river was an issue frequently raised in public comment. The 1975 Bureau of Recreation study (RIGR files) outlined international coordination efforts, and contains the official Mexican reply which, summarized, holds no opposition to the W&SR, but is noncommittal on the part of Mexico. -ED.

C. Fee Acquisitions:

(From RIGR file SWR MEMO - Request for Solicitors legal Review of EA, LAP, GMP Plans)

The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act limits total acreage per mile of the river to 320 acres on both sides. No more than 100 acres per mile can be purchased in fee.

When the lower Rio Grande was designated as a wild and scenic river, Congress took cognizance of the fact that only one bank of the river is within the territorial limits of the United States. Accordingly, the total acreage per mile of the river was limited to 160 acres. However, congress did not provide for a concomitant halving of allowable fee title purchases.

This omission can be interpreted in two ways. First, since Congress halved the total acreage per mile of the river, it must have intended to halve the fee title acreage as well. This interpretation can be supported by the general intent of Congress to allow an average of 50 acres of fee title on each side of each wild and scenic river.

On the other hand, it may be argued that Congress intended to allow 100 acres of fee acquisition per river mile, as provided for in the main body of the Act. Congress knew what it was doing when it halved the total acreage per mile from 320 to 160, and if it had wanted to cut fee acquisitions from 100 acres down to 50, it certainly could have done so.

The second interpretation is the more reasonable and persuasive, and it is adopted by this office. Therefore, it is our conclusion that an average of 100 acres per mile of the river may be purchased in fee.

-Gayle E. Manges, Field Solicitor, Santa Fe. September 9, 1980.

D. "Wild" and "Scenic" Designations

The 1975 BOR survey established, and the congress passed as part of the enabling legislation, the designated "wild" and "scenic" sections of the riverway. Controversy ensued over these designations, with some making the point that existing and proposed uses and developments in those areas are contrary to the basic act defining the designations.

Specifically, the areas between Boquillas Canyon's exit and La Linda, and from San Francisco Canyon to Indian Creek (from James Harrison's public comments) have numerous roads paralleling and near the river.

Some viewed this as a an extension of the "land grab" issue, and that the NPS had stretched the definition of "Wild" designation in order to control adjacent private lands.

E. Summary

Obviously, land acquisition plans became the major issue to landowners and their supporters. The 1981 Draft Land Acquisition Plan only served to increase their fears. The DLAP takes a dictatorial tone which gives the impression that outright fee taking of the land is preferred, with a few exceptions granted.

An excerpt from 1981 DLAP: "In some areas it is not essential to eliminate all private uses within the boundaries. The important consideration in the land acquisition program is that certain lands be acquired by the Federal Government for public use and enjoyment and effective administration, accompanied by suitable control of the remaining lands within the boundaries..." (*underlining as published in DLAP).

Thus, the tone was set, and throughout the remainder of the planning stage, due to the public response, the team had to back away from that stand. It had to repeatedly defend itself against accusations of "land grabbing," even after changing its position to a policy of very little fee simple land.

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Last Updated: 27-Apr-2005