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Chico State

Chico State Enterprises Returns Eagle Lake Field Station Land to Susanville Indian Rancheria

A crape myrtle flowers in front of an academic building.
Jason Halley / University Photographer

The Agreement Marks Second Time the University has Returned Ancestral Land to Native American Tribes in the Last Year

Today, Chico State Enterprises (CSE) and the Susanville Indian Rancheria completed a land-transfer agreement that returns the land known as the Eagle Lake Field Station to the Tribe.

The remote, 80-acre field station is on the eastern shore of Eagle Lake in Lassen County. Eagle Lake itself is the second largest freshwater lake entirely within the boundaries of California. The station is located within a sage and juniper woodland with a variety of habitats (marshes, lakes, streams, montane coniferous forests and high desert) very close by. The Tribe has a deep cultural, historical and geographical connection to this land and is planning to use this site for cultural, educational, and recreational purposes.

“These Tribes have stewarded and been present on the land around Eagle Lake since time immemorial,” said Arian Hart, tribal chairman of the Rancheria. “Through this transfer, we can now care for and deepen our reciprocal relationship with our ancestral lands while sharing this special place with the community.”

The transfer of the property was made possible by the Recreation & Public Purposes Tribal Parity Act, introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla (both D-Calif.), along with Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) and signed into law in January 2023 this year by President Joe Biden. It allows the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to approve the sale and leasing of land to Tribal governments for significantly below market value, as long it is used for recreational and other public purposes. Concurrently, the Susanville Indian Rancheria, Chico State Enterprises, and Chico State Office of Tribal Relations worked tirelessly with BLM to initiate the Department of the Interior’s transfer of the Eagle Lake Field Station from Chico State to the Rancheria.

“I am happy that my bipartisan bill, The Recreation and Public Purposes Act, could be put to good use by Susanville Rancheria,” said Congressman LaMalfa. “For nearly a century, local governments have been using this bill to improve recreation and public facilities. Now tribes can also use the same authority to make better use of surplus lands. By returning management to the Susanville Rancheria, this land will be better used and protected than it has been.” 

The Eagle Lake Field Station transfer is the second of its kind for CSE, the research foundation of the University. Last year, Chico State became the first university in California to return ancestral lands to a Native American tribe when it transferred the 93-acre Butte Creek Ecological Preserve in Butte County to the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria.

“Though we have a long history with Eagle Lake, the Field Station was no longer used to its full potential,” said Eli Goodsell, ecological reserves executive director for CSE. “We are grateful for the legislation that has allowed us to transfer this land to the Susanville Indian Rancheria, who will continue to steward this land for generations to come.”

Chico State’s presence at Eagle Lake dates back more than 70 years. The University purchased the property from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 1960, and the station opened in 1964. The 80-acre parcel has 15 structures and is adjacent to thousands of acres of federal land that have provided immersive learning experiences and served as grounds for research for College of Natural Sciences students and faculty conducting field work.

“It is truly an honor to play a part in righting historical wrongs and returning land to its historical inhabitants,” said Interim Chico State Provost Terence Lau. “The Eagle Lake Field Station is in the best possible hands with the Susanville Indian Rancheria. We look forward to seeing how they honor this special place.”