Outdoors Blog

Texas billionaires put gates on popular Forest Service road near Boise

Texas billionaires put gates on portion of Boise Ridge Road

A popular road in the Boise Foothills used by hunters and other recreationists has been closed to the public as the billionaire Wilks brothers continue to exert their private-property rights in Idaho.
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A popular road in the Boise Foothills used by hunters and other recreationists has been closed to the public as the billionaire Wilks brothers continue to exert their private-property rights in Idaho.

A popular road in the Boise Foothills used by hunters and other recreationists has new gates and “no trespassing” signs as the billionaire Wilks brothers of Texas continue to exert their private-property rights in Idaho.

Forest Service road 374 — also known as Boise Ridge Road — crosses Wilks-owned property between Bogus Basin and Harris Creek Summit. The summit is north of the ski area and 13 miles east of Horseshoe Bend. Two gates recently were installed on the road, raising questions about whether the road will be closed to the public.

On Tuesday, the gate on the northern end of the property was open but “no trespassing” signs were in place. The sign on the gate also said “private road” and large trenches were dug to each side of the gate, apparently to prevent vehicles from driving around it.

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The signs include the initials “DFD,” for the Wilkses’ DF Development. Attempts to obtain a comment from DF Development on its plans were unsuccessful.

“The physical barrier is irrelevant,” said Brant Petersen, the Boise National Forest’s Idaho City district ranger. “If it’s posted (no trespassing), it’s posted.”

General deer hunting along the Boise Ridge Road begins Oct. 10. Elk hunting begins in November.

The gated stretch of road has been privately owned but publicly accessible for decades. It provides access to neighboring public lands and a network of secondary roads.

“It’s one of the most heavy-hit areas in the state (by hunters),” said Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. “This is going to cause some trouble but it’s also going to start an interesting debate. ... That road has been public for so long.”

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It’s not just gates that will prevent vehicles from using the Boise Ridge Road on Wilks property. Trenches restrict vehicles from going around the gates. Chadd Cripe ccripe@idahostatesman.com

The Boise Ridge Road gates have prompted more than 20 phone calls and emails to the Boise National Forest, Petersen said. That volume of public contacts usually only happens with major wildfires, he said.

The Forest Service doesn’t have an easement across the Wilks-owned land, but Petersen said he has found evidence of a decades-old agreement with prior owner Boise Cascade. That agreement, called a “reservation,” could have the same effect as an easement and covers all but a couple of small portions of the road, Petersen said. He hopes to meet with DF Development representatives soon about the issue.

The gate on the southern end has a similar setup to the northern gate, including “non-drivable trenches,” Petersen said.

“I want to make sure we have a conversation before they slam those gates shut,” Petersen said. “I want to make sure the gates are in the right locations.”

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The green areas are the former Potlatch lands in Central Idaho sold to the Wilks brothers.

Petersen estimates that about 4 miles of the Boise Ridge Road crosses Wilks-owned property. The segment from Harris Creek Summit to Bogus Basin covers about 11 miles.

Representatives of the brothers had informed the Boise National Forest that gates would be placed in some locations, but hadn’t provided details on the plans, Petersen said. It’s possible the two gates on the Boise Ridge Road are just the beginning.

The Wilks brothers also own land where that road runs from Harris Creek Summit north to Hawley Mountain.

The property surrounding the Boise Ridge Road closure is listed for sale with Wilks Ranch Brokers, as an 11,240-acre ranch for $10,296,000. The listing describes a “one-of-a-kind, stunningly beautiful” property that would be attractive to timber investors and hunters, with wildlife including elk, deer, bears and turkeys.

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DF Development is trying to sell its land around the Boise Ridge Road. The listing mentions the scenic beauty. Chadd Cripe ccripe@idahostatesman.com

The road is well-traveled by hunters, mountain bikers, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and winter recreationists. It has been maintained as part of the Forest Service road system.

“When something has had a historic use and our recreating public has used it for a long time, you hate to see that go away,” Petersen said. “Me, not just as a Forest Service employee but me as recreating public, I hate to see that.”

The Wilks brothers bought 172,000 acres of forest land in Idaho in 2016. The lands historically were open to the public under ownership by Boise Cascade, Potlatch and Southern Pine Plantations. DF Development has stirred controversy by restricting access to that land, particularly with regard to roads or trails that access public lands. But it also has re-opened some land to recreation.

Brooks is working to bring a bill to the Idaho Legislature that would allow the public to challenge land-access issues in court — specifically, private landowners’ actions that restrict access to public lands.

“I think this almost perfectly highlights the value of public lands in our country,” he said. “When you allow big private interests to come and buy up massive amounts of land, they’re going to shut you out.”

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