The news that gates and "no trespassing" signs were installed in the foothills, just above Boise, is unwelcome to hunters, mountain bikers and other recreationists who have used the area for decades. Two Texas billionaire brothers, Dan and Farris Wilks, purchased 172,000 acres of former Boise-Cascade and Potlatch timberlands in 2016 across the west-central mountains of Idaho, including lands in the Boise foothills near the Bogus Basin ski area. One-third of those acres are now for sale, including an 11,000-acre parcel along the Boise Ridge Road (Forest Service road #374).
With the appearance of gates and "non-drivable trenches," access to large swaths of surrounding public lands has been cut off. Regardless of whether the gates are locked or not, the Wilks brothers have limited any public access by posting no trespassing signs. Based on the new Idaho trespass law that took effect July 1, 2018, significant fines and penalties may be imposed if recreationists disregard the no trespassing signs.
Unfortunately, we are seeing no trespassing signs popping up on public lands and public roads as well, where they don’t belong. Legislation has been proposed in the Idaho Legislature in the past that would give citizens the right to challenge illegal posting of public lands, but so far none of those bills has been granted a hearing. We’re hoping to see movement during the upcoming 2019 Idaho Legislative Session.
Because the Boise Ridge Road is a public road, funded and maintained with taxpayer dollars, the U.S. Forest Service is working to determine whether there are preexisting public access easements and whether public access to these public lands can be restored.
Located near Idaho’s biggest population center, these public lands are valued for their beauty and habitat. The area gets heavy use from hunters who are looking forward to the season opener on Oct. 10 for deer and in November for elk. Recreationists are also upset that their accustomed activities – including hiking, mountain biking, skiing, bird and wildlife watching – are blocked by the new gates.
While these are private lands, the issue helps to shine a spotlight on the importance of public lands to the people of Idaho. A new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that recreation on Bureau of Land Management lands (which make up only about one third of Idaho’s public lands) contributed over 2,500 jobs, worth $85 million in salaries and $15 million in local and state tax revenue.
Idahoans prize our public lands and access to them. Unfortunately these new gates, installed by out-of-state landowners, disrupt long-established uses and underscore the need to protect the values our Idaho heritage depends upon.