Letters from the West

Texas billionaire brothers reach out to Idaho leaders; one sale for access in the works

Snowmobiling is an important part of the Valley County economy, and access to the county trail system is sometimes across private land. Valley County is in the process of buying land for a parking lot and trailhead from a company owned by two Texas billionaires.
Snowmobiling is an important part of the Valley County economy, and access to the county trail system is sometimes across private land. Valley County is in the process of buying land for a parking lot and trailhead from a company owned by two Texas billionaires. Statesman file

Representatives for two Texas billionaires who have purchased more than 200,000 acres of land in Idaho have reached out to state and county leaders to improve relations.

Representatives for DF Development, the Cisco, Texas, company owned by Farris and Dan Wilks, met with House Speaker Scott Bedke and Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz in November.

And Valley County is about to complete the purchase of a 4.2-acre parking lot and trailhead owned by DF Development.

The parking lot will serve snowmobilers, four-wheelers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and others using the public trail system between Smith’s Ferry and Cascade. The purchase is expected to close in February.

Valley County will pay $42,300 for the parking lot that is part of the 172,000-acre forest parcel purchased in 2016 by the Wilkses, of Cisco. The funds to buy the lot come from a grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and donations from snowmobile and other recreation groups, said Larry Laxson, Valley County recreation director.

“They were great to work with,” Laxson said of the company owned by the two brothers who have been buying up land across the West.

The purchase of the parking lot was in the works before the Wilks brothers purchased the land. The county applied for the state grant early in 2016.

“It’s a popular spot for a wide group of recreationists,” Laxson said.

The Wilkses purchased 38,000 acres of land in North Idaho in 2015 and in August bought the Southern Idaho lands that Potlatch Corp. sold earlier this year to Southern Pine Plantations. The lands are scattered across Valley, Boise and Adams counties and intermingled with Boise National Forest, Payette National Forest and Idaho state endowment lands, along with other nonindustrial private lands.

The purchase caused widespread consternation after the Wilkses kicked loggers, hunters and others off the land that had been open for public use since the days they were owned by Boise Cascade, the company that consolidated them.

The Wilkses’ company told county officials the lands were closed because they had been overlogged and treated poorly by campers and other users.

Bedke said he met with four representatives of the Wilkses and told them he was a “staunch supporter of private property rights.

“I thought they were seeking me out as a display of them wanting to assimilate into the custom and culture of Idaho,” Bedke said. “But it is private land, and they get to regulate who comes and goes.”

Road access was one specific issue they discussed, Bedke said. The Oakley rancher told the company representatives that if public funds had been spent to maintain the road, he believed the public had a right of way for access.

The Wilks brothers’ representatives were accompanied by John Foster of Kestral West, a Boise lobbying firm. Foster said he was not authorized to speak.

The Idaho Statesman has made repeated calls to Wilks Development for comment since August, including again Monday, with no response. Other Idaho journalists also report having difficulty arranging interviews with the company about their public access policies.

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