Last night, the USF Student Senate voted unanimously to place a conservation easement on the embattled USF Forest Preserve (USFFP). After advocates elaborated on the reasons why the preserve should be protected, the Senate weighed in with 22 yes votes, one abstention and zero no votes.
The conservation easement they voted in favor of would, if enacted, permanently protect the USFFP from any further inquiry into development by USF.
“As an organization built entirely by students, many of whom served as co-sponsors and co-authors of this bill, we are proud to join the USF Faculty Senate in the passage of a resolution which demands that this land, and the Indigenous cemeteries and biodiversity contained within it, remain protected from destruction,” Save USFFP wrote in its announcement about the vote.
The body also acknowledged that the vote means a lot because the administration failed to seek input from students, faculty, or the community before soliciting the land for development. Instead, the community had to find out about the Request for Information (RFI) to develop the land from a Tampa Bay Business Journal article back in April.
This led to outcry from students, faculty and the community. In May, the USF Faculty Senate voted 54-3 to permanently protect the preserve, and a change.org petition has more than 22,000 signatures in support of protecting the land.
“I feel reinvigorated and encouraged by both the passage of the resolution and by the impassioned comments given by several co-sponsors of the resolution,” Jeannie Mounger, PhD Candidate at USF and Save the USFFP activist, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
But in past comments to CL the USF administration said that the passing of any USF Student Government resolution, “would not require any action by the university.”
Earlier this month, USF President Steve Currall, who was linked to the RFI on developing the preserve, announced his retirement from the university, citing health and personal reasons.
USF Doctoral Candidate Stephen Hesterberg told WUSF that Currall’s two year tenure as USF President was “tumultuous and controversial,” highlighting his involvement in the RFI. Hesterberg told the Oracle that Currall’s departure will not stop Save USFFP’s mission to permanently protect the preserve.
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