USF student government to consider stepping into fight to save forest preserve

In May, the USF Faculty Senate voted 54-3 to permanently protect the preserve.

click to enlarge After the reading of the resolution on Monday, the formal review process begins, and it may take up to two weeks for USF’s Student Government Senate to vote. - Jeannie Mounger
Jeannie Mounger
After the reading of the resolution on Monday, the formal review process begins, and it may take up to two weeks for USF’s Student Government Senate to vote.


On Monday, a resolution written by University of South Florida students, faculty and environmental activists will head to the floor of the USF Student Government Senate. 

Update: Due to Hurricane Elsa, the resolution reading has been postponed until July 12. After that date, the USF Student Government has two weeks to vote.

The goal of the resolution is to officially bring the student government into the struggle to Save the USF Forest Preserve (USFFP). It also demands that a conservation easement be established on the preserve, which would protect the land from any future development or speculation for development. The resolution document was shared with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. 

After the reading of the resolution on Monday, the formal review process begins, and it may take up to two weeks for USF’s Student Government Senate to vote.

RELATED
Watch the new documentary 'Choke Point' about USF's efforts to bulldoze a protected forest preserve

The authors of the resolution claim that USF’s leadership violated a number of the university’s own guidelines and plans for sustainability when they released a Request For Information (RFI) to developers back in April. 

The students claim that the RFI is not aligned with the policies of the 2015-2025 Campus Master Plan section 4, which outlines a clear no-development policy for the USF Forest Preserve.

The authors also claim that the RFI is not aligned with the institutional core commitment of sustainability outlined in USF President Steve Currall’s “10-year blueprint for a bold future.

Exploring development, the resolution claims, goes against the City of Tampa’s “Resilient Tampa roadmap,” unveiled on May 27, 2021, which states that the city has obligations to remedy the unplanned growth in the USF area, protect the health of the Tampa Bay Watershed, protect and preserve existing natural systems. These protections are expected to help preserve a sustainable tree canopy and urban forest that maximizes air quality, energy savings, carbon sequestration, and other healthy ecosystem benefits.

The USF students’ resolution goes on to discuss the environmental and educational importance of the preserve and the endangered animal and plant species that live there.

It also references the recent passing of The Wildlife Corridor Act, which recognizes the importance of a state-wide network of wildlife corridors (such as the USFFP) and orders the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to preserve such areas.

USFFP also contains at least nine documented archaeological sites, including an Indigenous cemetery. The resolution's authors call for the protection of the area, which has experienced looting in the past and recently again, after USF’s RFI was released.

Adam Freeman, Director of Media Relations for USF, acknowledged the concerns for the environmental and cultural importance of the preserve.

“Any potential project related to the RFI for the USF golf course and forest preserve would have to fall within applicable restrictions for the development of the property and must consider options for mitigation, protecting wildlife and preserving unique natural features of the property to eliminate or minimize any environmental impacts,” Freeman wrote in an email to CL.

But Freeman added that even if the USF Government Senate passes a resolution, “it would not require any action by the university.”

He directed CL Tampa Bay to the RFI and campus master plan to see where these protections are addressed, but the language in the documents is vague. CL asked for more specifics and any USF documents or guidelines that show how exactly the preserve is protected and will update this post with any new information.

In May, the USF Faculty Senate voted 54-3 to permanently protect the preserve. Over 21,000 people have signed a change.org petition to save the preserve, and the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to request that the university preserve the land.

The authors of the resolution include USF PhD candidates and faculty, along with an array of local environmental groups including Tampa Audubon Society, Center for Biological Diversity, Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida Native Plant Society Suncoast Chapter, the Tampa Bay Butterfly Foundation, Florida Indigenous Alliance and Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality.

Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team works tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.

Subscribe to our newsletter and follow @cl_tampabay on Twitter.

About The Author

Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia previously wrote for the USA Today Network, The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, Scalawag Magazine, and various other news outlets. When he's not writing, Justin likes to make music, read, play basketball and spend time with loved ones. 


Scroll to read more Tampa Bay News articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]