Profs ponder preserve plans

The university’s purchase of a huge environmental preserve is complete, but there are still questions about just who will be allowed to visit it.

Faculty members heard a report on the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, presented at the Dec. 13 meeting of Chico State University’s Academic Senate.

Ken Derucher, dean of the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology, headed up the project as the college’s Research Foundation purchased the land—first a $3.68 million parcel known as the Simmons property, and then 1,226 acres owned by the Henning family that came to $3.46 million, almost $200,000 less than the original asking price. Grants from entities ranging from the Packard Foundation to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service footed the bill.

Derucher hinted at more spending on the horizon, as the foundation moves to acquire or manage additional land bordering the preserve. Also, he said, “to run it, I need an endowment.” That would be minimum of $3 million, he said, adding with a grin that “$5 million would be nice.”

The preserve, all its canyon land combined, is larger than Bidwell Park, touching Highway 32 and the town of Cohasset. Derucher said its intent is to contribute to scientific knowledge and protect habitat and species like Tehama deer and salmon. “Thirteen percent [of the land’s plant and animal occupants] are endangered, and we want to help that out,” Derucher said.

In a controversial twist that was necessary to secure one of the grants from the Wildlife Conservation Board, limited hunting will be allowed. Meanwhile, details about public access to the reserve remain in question. "In every proposal we wrote, we talked about limited public access and controlled access," Derucher pointed out, as if to curtail criticism about the setup.