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Squaw-Alpine Gondola Opens Dispute of What is Technically Wilderness

As if Squaw Valley didn't have enough fights dragging on, the proposed interconnect gondola between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows has dropped down a rabbit hole of debate about what does and does not constitute a wilderness area for the purposes of the federal protections. We've previously reported on objections to the project, including assertions that the gondola's route runs through the Granite Chief Wilderness Area. But as the history and timeline behind the wilderness area is investigated, the more philosophical the debate about the gondola route becomes.

At issue is a parcel of land owned by Troy Caldwell that is key to the completion of the proposed gondola. No one debates that the land is privately-held, and as such, is outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. But if you look at a map, it appears that the wilderness boundary cuts through a corner of Caldwell's land that is necessary to the gondola route.

North Lake Tahoe's Moonshine Ink has laid out how that boundary came to pass. The timeline goes something like this: Congress enacts the California Wilderness Act of 1984 establishing wilderness boundaries, maps are drawn, then the federal government tries to acquire all the land within those boundaries. On the last part, the government failed to acquire Caldwell's land, but the boundary was never redrawn.

Sierra Watch, among other organizations, is arguing that the boundaries set in 1984 mean that Caldwell's land should be in some ways treated like wilderness. The intent to make it wilderness, they argue, should be enough to get it treated like such.

What's lost in that argument is that the act had a competing intent clearly spelled out in its text: "Acquisition shall be only with the concurrence of the owner." The authors of the act wanted to designate wilderness areas, but they also wanted landowners to be held-harmless in the process. Caldwell making the decision to keep the land wasn't an novel affront to the wishes of Congress; it was an option baked into the law itself.

The mapped wilderness boundary is immaterial to whether or not the gondola is eventually built. Opponents of the gondola have other arguments to fall back on — many, like those against the base village plan, center on just how much traffic this area can really support. Our earlier poll on the gondola showed our readers were pretty split on the idea, and there are still opportunities for public input before it gets close to construction.

· Does the Squaw-Alpine Gondola Run through Wilderness? [Moonshine Ink]
· The Results Are In On The Squaw-Alpine Gondola [Curbed Ski]
· Vote Now: Yay or Nay on the Squaw-Alpine Gondola? [Curbed Ski]
· The Results Are In On Olympic Valley and Incorporation [Curbed Ski]
· Squaw Valley CEO Comes Out Against Olympic Valley [Curbed Ski]