Architecture & Real Estate | June 22, 2019 12:22 pm

Billionaires Spark Controversy Over Idaho Land

A series of purchases creates tension around public lands

A scenic view of Idaho in winter
Mystery in the Mail/Creative Commons

Idaho is home to some of the most magnificent geography in the United States: scenic mountains, beautiful rivers, and tremendous vistas in all seasons. The population of Idaho is also growing rapidly: last year, it was one of the two fastest-growing states in the nation.

Now, the New York Times is reporting that the purchase of 700,000 acres by a pair of wealthy brothers has led to tension within the state’s population.

“These new buyers have become a symbol of a bigger problem: The gentrification of the interior West,” the article’s authors report. And while this isn’t simply confined to the actions of a few wealthy individuals, the end result is one that’s exacerbated inequality, making homes unaffordable for some and putting a strain on public resources.

At the center of the Times story, written by Julie Turkewitz, are Dan and Farris Wilks. The Wilks brothers began their careers as stonemasons before shifting careers into fracking — which ultimately led to a $3,500,000,000 sale of their business to the Singaporean government in 2011. The two brothers are politically conservative, and have made extensive donations to politicians in Texas (and nationwide) who share their worldview.

That particular take on politics has also manifested itself in their dealings in Idaho. The Wilks brothers’ purchases in Idaho have been extensive, and has affected the ability of others within the state to travel through some of the outdoor space there. One possible solution to this left several Idaho residents — even those who identified as conservatives — feeling even more frustrated.

Amid the dispute, some residents emailed the Wilks, asking permission to cross their property. They were surprised to receive a response suggesting they first visit a popular right-wing website and share their opinions of its content.

The website in question is one that the Wilkses have donated substantial amounts of money to in the past.

The story ends on a cautiously optimistic note, pointing out that some of the tension between the Wilkses and the residents of Idaho with whom they’ve clashed has thawed. But even so, the larger issues discussed here continue to affect the lives of many in Idaho and in other states undergoing rapid change — with few easy answers in sight.

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