The front page of Sunday’s New York Times featured Denver-based national correspondent Julie Turkewitz demonstrating hostility to private property and the dismayingly conservative billionaires who own it in “As Billionaires Snap Up Open Land in West, Public Is Fenced Out” (click “expand”):
The Wilks brothers grew up in a goat shed, never finished high school and built a billion-dollar fracking business from scratch.
So when the brothers, Dan and Farris, bought a vast stretch of mountain-studded land in southwest Idaho, it was not just an investment, but a sign of their good fortune.
“Through hard work and determination -- and they didn’t have a lot of privilege -- they’ve reached success,” said Dan Wilks’s son, Justin.
The purchase also placed the Wilkses high on the list of well-heeled landowners who are buying huge parcels of America. In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few[.]
But now, with wealthier buyers purchasing even larger parcels, the battle lines have shifted. Many local residents see these new owners as a threat to a way of life beloved for its easy access to the outdoors, and they complain that property that they once saw as public is being taken away from them.
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.
The arrival of this new class of landholders comes as the region is experiencing the fastest population boom in the country, which is driving up housing prices and the cost of living and leaving many residents fearful of losing their culture and economic stability.
Note: So does illegal immigration, but you will be waiting a while for The Times to come out against that.
One can’t help wondering if liberal media mogul landowners (like Ted Turner and Jeff Bezos) would get this level of scrutiny, as opposed to just a passing mention, as in the next paragraph:
Among the nation’s top landowners are Mr. Malone, with 2.2 million acres in New Mexico, Colorado and other states; the media mogul Ted Turner, with two million acres in Montana, Nebraska and elsewhere; Peter Buck, a founder of Subway; Charles and David Koch, who run cattle outside of Lubbock, Tex.; and Jeff Bezos, who operates his space company from a West Texas outpost. William Bruce Harrison, the scion to an oil fortune, now owns 19 mountains in Colorado.
Turkewtiz saw a “problem,” which sounds a lot like what happened when media-savvy young liberals including Times employees gentrified Brooklyn and pushed prices up:
These new buyers have become a symbol of a bigger problem: The gentrification of the interior West.
In 2018, more than 20,000 Californians arrived in Idaho; home prices around Boise also jumped 17 percent. This has meant not just new subdivisions and microbreweries, but also packed schools, crowded ski trails and heightened anxiety among teachers, plumbers and others, who are finding that they can no longer afford a first home.
She faulted what the Wilks did with their own money which they made anticipating the fracking boom.
This has allowed them to donate generously to causes they believe in, including right-wing media outlets, Senator Ted Cruz’s White House run and President Trump’s re-election bid. It has also allowed them to buy enormous parcels, particularly in Montana, where they are prolific donors to local politicians, and in Idaho, where they’ve hired lobbyists to protect their interests.
Turkewitz treated a Fifth Amendment right as an unwelcome holdover from the past: “The concept of private property is embedded in the nation’s framework, and many large landowners cite this as the foundation for their holdings.”
A recommendation of a mainstream conservative website was grounds for suspicion.
Amid the dispute, some residents emailed the Wilkses, 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 site, PragerU, features videos supporting the hard-lined [sic] conservative views of personalities like Ben Shapiro and Dinesh D’Souza. The portal has been heavily financed by the Wilkses.
Mr. Horting, a lifelong conservative, was “insulted,” he said. “I’m not going to give my political views to use your land.”