BOISE — Another road closure in connection to Texas billionaire brothers Dan and Farris Wilks has been reported north of Boise.
What’s in question is whether that road had been maintained using public tax dollars, which led the Idaho Wildlife Federation to dig into the newly discovered closure, according to Brian Brooks, the federation’s executive director. A video about the closure posted to the federation’s Facebook page has been circulating on social media, receiving more than 5,000 shares since last week.
The road, known as National Forest Road 645, cuts through what’s listed as DF Development LLC private property, a company owned by the Wilks brothers. Their company has purchased thousands of acres of Idaho land and has put up gates on popular U.S. Forest Services road outside of Boise over the last several years, the Associated Press reported.
Idaho’s outdoor enthusiasts — particularly those in Valley County — could be affected by the closure. The road, just west of Smiths Ferry, is a popular recreation route for hunters and ATV riders, according to Brooks.
“Idahoans clearly value access, and we also value private property rights, and there is a whole ocean of gray area when those two marry each other,” Brooks said. “We need to hone those in, we need to reign those in.”
The Idaho Press attempted to reach representatives with DF Development several times by Tuesday’s deadline and was unsuccessful.
The Boise National Forest office has received complaints about the road closure, though spokeswoman Venetia Gempler wasn’t able to confirm whether the road was officially closed to the public. Only the road outside of DF Development’s property is under the Forest Service’s jurisdiction, meaning DF Development has the ability to close off its private property. Gempler said the Forest Service is looking into the issue.
Unless the Forest Service has an easement, it doesn’t have any responsibility over the road, Gempler said.
Brooks called Idaho’s road rights-of-way and easement laws “utterly complex” and “incredibly murky.”
“We need clarity, and the longer we do not have clarity, it’s only going to benefit billionaires … at the expense of the public who utilizes public lands,” Brooks said. “I believe in private property rights, and the Wilks brothers have every right to do what they want with their property, but that doesn’t mean easement laws don’t exist.”
A similar issue arose last year when the Wilks brothers gated off Boise Ridge Road, a popular road in the Boise foothills.
Issues like this have also cropped up in other states across the nation. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t hear an appeal from a California billionaire who didn’t want to open a road on his property so members of the public could access a beach near San Francisco, the AP reported.
The Idaho Legislature last year passed sweeping trespass laws that increased penalties for criminal and civil trespassing on private lands, and eased requirements for posting on private property, the Idaho Press reported. Legislation introduced during this year’s legislative session that would have allowed private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against individuals or entities willfully and knowingly blocking access to public lands failed.