“I doubt they came here to start a fight.”
The closing line of an article by Rocky Barker in the Idaho Statesman regarding the closure of some private land that was once open to the public here in Idaho. The land was closed after a change in ownership last year when a few gentlemen billionaires from Texas, the Wilks brothers, bought the property. I won’t get into all the details. If you are from Idaho, you know the story. If you are from any of the other northwest states you likely have heard a similar story.
What I want to address here are the insipid calls for friendly relations with these people. I know, I know, honey gets you further than vinegar. I don’t care. Neither, I would wager, do the Wilks brothers. In the article by Barker he talks about how Idahoans need to know where the Wilks brothers come from, which is Texas. He seems to be trying to make the case that if we all just get to know one another and that it’ll all be fine. But in the same article he mentions that the Wilks brothers have been buying up elk hunting property in Montana. Likely employing the same tactics to protect their property that they are employing in Idaho, some of which have people up in arms.
As far as getting to know one another, well, I lived in Texas for a few years. It is a beautiful state, with some really good people. But as an Idaho boy, I have to say that the hunting is a real pain unless you are rich. In Texas you have to have a hunting lease or be a property owner in order to hunt. Period. Which limits hunting and other outdoor recreation, due to the lack of public land, to those who can afford it. On top of tags and license fees, one needs to come up with anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to $12,000 per gun and up. At leasehunter.com I saw one lease for $60,000. Annually. This can vary from place to place, but the bottom line is I don’t know many average joe hunters who can afford to drop an extra $12,000 a year in order to hunt.
Now, I will fully acknowledge that the Wilks brothers have a right to do what they wish with their property. But what I cannot stand the thought of is Idaho turning into a state like Texas down the line, a state without public access; a state where there ain’t really anywhere to go unless you’ve got permission from the owner, and where the owner is only going to grant that permission if you cough up thousands and thousands of dollars each year.
The Wilks brothers may not have come here for a fight. But Idaho needs to be ready for one. Not necessarily against the Wilks brothers, but against those politicians who would support the sale of the public lands that we have left to enjoy in Idaho. People like the Wilks brothers aren’t evil. They are living their version of the American dream as Barker mentioned in his article. But they would love to own even more of our beautiful state, for their use, and their profit, and I am sure that they are cozy with some of the Republicans who have proposed massive sell offs. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Wilks brothers’ land purchases in Idaho and Montana are in anticipation or hopes of a potential sell off in the future that they might be able to take advantage of. Barker also noted in his article that they had employed lobbyists who had been shopping legislation around in the statehouse to try to strengthen Idaho’s private property laws. Does that sound like people who haven’t come here for a fight?