In defense of the process

Ken Derucher

Ken Derucher

photo by Tom Angel

Chico State University’s Ken Derucher recently sat down for an interview with the News & Review about the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. Derucher is dean of the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology and second-in-command of developing the reserve’s master plan. This is an edited version of the interview.

What do you say to those who argue that the public should enjoy unrestricted access to the reserve because they see it as public land?

It’s not public land. This is property that basically is owned and managed by the California State University, Chico Research Foundation, a private entity.

What about the people who point out that public funding went into the purchase of this property?

We felt all along that that we were being very generous with the permit process. We have an obligation under our memorandum of understanding with the Wildlife Conservation Board, plus the Department of Fish and Game, to protect the environment and to provide access consistent with the nature of the preserve, which is home to many endangered species. Then there is the liability issue. We want to know basically who is on our property at what time and what they are doing.

We envisioned when we started this process that specific sites—areas of this property—would be set aside for research purposes, and we don’t want those areas disturbed by individuals coming and going.

We might, once we have more funds for the hands-on management, open it up and provide more access. The problem is, I have to raise management dollars in order to even consider that in the future. To manage that site, we need about $3 to $5 million in an endowment.

What about city concerns that it has no representation on the advisory committee?

The bottom line was that we didn’t want to politicize the process. We asked a lot of good people to help us make decisions about what is best. We had no prior knowledge about which way they were leaning. These were what we felt were citizens of good faith.

What are the objectives here overall?

There are five objectives. The first is to protect significant range for the east Tehama deer herd and habitat for mountain lion, black bear and other predators. Two is to protect and enhance habitat for at-risk riparian species—Chinook salmon, birds and whatever else we have. Third, we want to contribute to the restoration of the Big Chico Creek spring Chinook salmon and steelhead runs. Fourth, we want to protect a high-quality example of a Sierra Nevada foothills riparian ecosystem. And fifth, we want to contribute to the scientific knowledge and public awareness of the natural processes of Big Chico Creek and its watersheds.

We are under no mandate to have a public-outreach issue. As to what we did or didn’t do, this was established by the president of our research foundation, Scott McNall, who decided that what we needed to do was not only have a technical advisory committee, but a citizens’ committee as well.

What about the university’s image of being elitist in the way it’s handling this?

I don’t believe we are elitist. We’re not trying to be elitist. We have a mission that was started three years ago. In the environmental arena, we want to preserve a piece of our area and our history. I think 20 years from now, when I’m no longer here and you’re no longer here, I think people will look back on this and say we did the right thing.