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“Who gets to own the West?” NYT shines front page spotlight on Idaho land and Texas billionaires

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In a long story by New York Times national correspondent Julie Turkewitz, the paper turned its attention to an increasing number of billionaires snapping up large tracts of land across the Western US.

The story, with an arresting wintry photo of the Payette River near Smiths Ferry carries an Idaho City dateline. It zeros in on Idaho and DF Development, the company owned by Dan and Farris Wilks of Texas.

The Wilkses, who now own some 700,000 acres across several states, have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, as their property has expanded, the brothers have shuttered trails and hired armed guards to patrol their acres, blocking and stymying access not only to their private property, but also to some publicly owned areas. This has drawn ire from everyday Idahoans who have hiked and hunted in those hills for generations.

New York Times: Who Gets to Own the West?

The New York Times piece got the full push from the national news outlet. It included mobile push alerts, a front page jump-off and full page inside the Saturday print edition. So far, it racked up more than 1,100 comments.

“The Gate.”

It puts considerable focus on the Wilkes habit of putting up gates on private land they own, setting off virtual fires in literal forests. The Wilkese company, DF Development, closed the Boise Ridge Road last year. The move caught a flurry of public attention and annoyance.

“We’re being bullied,” neighbor Tim Horting told the Times. “We can’t compete and they know it.”

Tukewitz talked with Justin Wilks – Dan’s son. He defended the practice of putting up gates. He said much of the land the Wilks now owns is in rough shape from years of public use.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Justin Wilks said. “I know some people think we haven’t been, just because we haven’t let them freely roam across our property as they saw fit. But I’ll also offer: Do you want me camping in your front yard?”

The story uses the Wilks as an example of other billionaires buying large tracts of land – including Jeff Bezos, the Koch Brothers, John Malone and others.

Read the full story at NYTimes.com.

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