Access to open space, so much a part of living in Idaho, is in danger of being lost to all but the few who can afford to buy almost anything.
This week, the Idaho Press reported that Texas billionaire brothers Dan and Farris Wilks have closed National Forest Road 645, near Boise. That road is a popular recreation route for hunters and ATV riders, according to Brian Brooks of the Idaho Wildlife Federation.
This is not the first such closure since the brothers began buying large swaths of Idaho several years ago. Last year, the Press reported, the Wilkses gated a popular Boise foothills access.
Access closures are not limited to private property abutting public lands. A California billionaire has attempted for years to block the public from accessing the ocean near San Francisco by crossing his property.
California laws that make all Pacific beaches below high tide marks public also make it clear that public access to those beaches must also be granted. Idaho laws have no such clarity.
That isn’t surprising. Conservative Idahoans hold private property rights in high regard. Recent legislation increased penalties for trespassing on private property and lowered requirements for posting it as such.
But love for the outdoors and natural unspoiled spaces also tugs on Idahoans. The state’s vast public lands and open roads afford recreation opportunities and an easy access to natural spaces that exist in few other places.
As hard as it is to imagine, individuals could control the access to most, if not all, public lands in Idaho unless the Legislature brings clarity to easement and access laws, giving as much weight to access by the public as it does to private property.
It had better do it soon. The Wilks brothers are not the only billionaires out there.