“Nyah” “We told you so.” “Told you so.” “Nyah nyah!”
Sometimes - most times - when politicians and special interests scheme against the public interest, all of us have a right - yea, a duty - to stand very tall and say very loudly, “NO.” Then put an end to the underhanded deed they’re trying to underhandedly do.
Such is the case in Idaho these days where the good folks are getting a firsthand lesson in why no one - NO ONE - should attempt to sell off - or privatize - lands now owned by the state or the fed. It’s damned hard to put a fence around 172,000 acres and post large signs saying “NO TRESPASSING.” But it’s been done.
Some months back, a couple of Texas billionaires started buying up what public lands they could find in several states. In Idaho, that included acres mostly in and around Idaho, Adams and Valley Counties. With the sale went hundreds and hundreds of miles of roads to the back country. Roads known to thousands of hunters and recreationists as their entry to whatever hunting, skiing, hiking, or just walking around they had in mind.
Except now, they can’t. Now those acres are posted with signs and bright orange posts to tell everyone who used to prowl around them, “PRIVATE! KEEP OUT.”
Dan and Farris Wilks are the brothers. DF Development is their outfit. They got their hands on most of the acres in a sale by Potlatch Corp. When finalized, up went the posts, up went the signs and up went the temperatures of hundreds and hundreds of hunters and others who ran into ‘em.
For many years, a large crowd of us has been loudly protesting the selloff of large plots of government land to private parties. “NO! NO! NO!” But, a solid string of mostly Republican legislators and members of Congress has been holding hearings, sponsoring meetings and gathering all the listeners they could find to promote said sales.
They’ve used some specious and, some would say, faulty “facts” that such marketing of government lands - especially Forest Service and BLM - are possible. And beneficial. Many fact-checking legal sources have said it’s NOT possible and NOT legal in most cases. Plus, the accompanying required costs to states, counties and cities for maintenance and care would be astronomical - absolutely impossible for such governments to handle.
As if those common sense rebuttals to selling off federal and other large chunks of governmental lands were not enough, the issue of loss of public access has always come up. But, the answer from those pressing the sell-off idea has always been the same. “Don’t worry. That wouldn’t happen.”
Tell that to the folks today in Adams, Valley and Idaho Counties. Suddenly, ranchers, grazers, hunters and recreationists of all stripes are facing exactly that. Yes, this was a private sale. But the lesson - and the dangers of government sales - are there to see.
Idaho Fish & Game had to call off special tag hunts with the accompanying loss of dollars badly needed by the Department. Counties are being told maintenance of access roads to snowmobile trails is ending. Leases that traditionally meant access are being cancelled. And everyone in charge of anything official is finally figuring out the situation is going to mean heavy losses of tourists, hunters and recreationists whose dollars have made big differences in local budgets.
Being a curious sort, my mind wanders to this: what’s going to happen when one or more large fires hits all that now private timberland? And they will. When the Wilks boys call for firefighting help, who’s going to answer the phone and say “Sure, we’ll be right out?” When a couple of good ol’ Texas boys have slammed the door to all former users of those acres, you just know they’ll be feeling helpful down at the local watering holes. Sure.
The Wilks story is going to be the talk of all future meetings trying to drum up support for government land sales. Because we now know whoever buys land buys access and can damn well slam the door on the entire public. Because it’s happened. And I’d be willing to bet more than a few state folk, county commissioners and city councils are taking a new look at the sell-off talk.
Nothing reaches a politician’s heart faster than a large group of supporters who’ve been adversely affected by some issue. Even just ending traditional access to hunting and recreational areas.
I don’t believe I’ve ever quoted the “wit and wisdom” of former Idaho Senator Steve Symms before. But a line he gave me many years ago seems very fitting to this land sales business.
“Makes no damned sense,” he said, “to sell the farm to buy a sports car.” In Idaho, that’s very sage-like.