Texas billionaires put gates on portion of Boise Ridge Road
In 2016, Texas billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks began buying thousands of acres of Southern Idaho property, raising concerns as they removed logging operations, closed Forest Service roads and blocked recreational access to land that long had been open to public use.
In March 2018, Wilks-owned DF Development, LLC put several parcels of land up for sale, advertising some as ideal homestead property and others as ripe logging land.
A year later, even more land is up for grabs.
Eleven Idaho properties are on the market, according to the website for Wilks Ranch Brokers, a real estate and property management firm backed by the brothers. The bulk are in Valley County, including one new listing of 128 acres near Cascade, priced at $281,600. Another property labeled as a new listing offers more than 400 acres near Garden Valley in Boise County for $472,650.
Two Valley County properties, listed last spring, sold to Idaho buyers in the fall, property records show. A third property is labeled as sold on the Wilks Ranch Brokers website, though Valley County officials were unable to locate property records for that parcel.
Jimmy Williams, who handled the properties for Wilks Ranch Brokers, declined to discuss the amount the properties sold for and to whom they were sold.
“There has been an abundant amount of interest in properties offered for sale,” Williams told the Statesman in an email. “The largest volume of interest seems to be in properties 25 to 150 acres.”
He also said Wilks Ranch Brokers will offer “many new mountain timbered properties for sale” in the spring, all in different locations and of different sizes.
Wilks Ranch Brokers made headlines in Montana in January after offering several properties there, too.
Properties under new ownership
The Valley County properties that Wilks Ranch Brokers lists as sold are part of an area that became controversial in 2017 when the Texas brothers terminated leases to roads through the property that offered critical access to snowmobiling trails.
They later restored limited access, but not before video of a Wilks security officer confronting a recreationist on a publicly owned road went viral. They’ve also gated a popular public road near Boise.
A 28.6-acre parcel southeast of Cascade was sold in August to the Neil & Connie Miller Living Trust, property records show. Connie J. Miller is the president and CEO of Boise-based Icon Credit Union. The Millers did not return email or phone requests for comment. The property was listed for $112,970.
Bill Freeman, 73, bought 24 acres of Valley County land from the Wilkses last September, listed for nearly $120,000. His property borders the Millers’ to the north.
Freeman told the Statesman that he didn’t work with either of the Wilks brothers during the process, and he wasn’t told why DF Development chose to sell the parcel.
Both properties border Clear Creek Road, the Forest Service road at the center of the security officer confrontation.
Freeman, of Boise, said he’d be open to allowing the public to access a private logging road that runs through his property — within reason.
“I don’t really mind if people use the road for snowmobiling, as long as they stay on the road,” Freeman said.
He hopes to use the land as a “hobby tree farm” and perhaps a second home site in the future. He said he’d prefer recreationists stay off the road in the summer.
“But it wouldn’t be the end of the world,” he said.
How much Idaho land do Wilkses own?
The Wilkses have listed more than 54,000 acres of Idaho land for sale, but that’s a few drops in the bucket compared to the amount of property still owned by Wilks companies.
In Valley County, property records show DF Development owns nearly 75,000 acres of land across 306 parcels. The assessed value of the combined properties is more than $8.5 million. The vast majority of the land is zoned for harvesting timber.
DF Development and Wilks Ranch Idaho LTD own a combined 43,000 acres in Idaho County, according to assessor’s records.
“Much of it is dry grazing (land), so the assessed value is only $2.9 million,” Idaho County Assessor James Zehner told the Statesman in an email.
Nearly 200 parcels of Adams County land belong to DF Development, assessor’s records show. Combined, the parcels make up nearly 61,000 acres and are assessed at $6.4 million.
The Wilkses also own land in Boise County, some of which is for sale through Wilks Ranch Brokers. Records from 2018, the most recent year publicly available, show the Wilkses own nearly 32,000 acres of Boise County land. The assessed value of that property is about $3.4 million.
Because the Texas billionaires own so much Idaho forest land (at least 200,000 acres), some Idahoans are pushing legislation aimed at ensuring they and other private landowners can’t stymie access to public roads or properties.
Brian Brooks, director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, introduced a bill to the Idaho Legislature last week that would offer individuals a civil litigation option if access is cut off.
“Rural counties do not have the time or the money to litigate someone like the Wilkses ... just to open a gate,” Brooks said, in reference to the brothers’ gating of Boise Ridge Road.
Freeman, who bought one of the Cascade-area properties, is familiar with the backlash that has surrounded the Wilks brothers. Though he plans to manage his property in a different fashion than the Texans, he said he can see where the Wilkses were coming from.
“A lot of people have a negative impression of the Wilkses, but I don’t think they’re bad guys,” Freeman said. “People need to think about what they would want if they were the property owner, how much they would want the public using it.”