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USF Student Government Joins Opposition To Forest Preserve Development

Gate to the USF Forest Preserve with a hand-painted sign attached.
Jessica Meszaros
WUSF Public Media
At least 15 courses have used the USF Forest Preserve as part of the curriculum in recent years.

The USF SG Senate passed a resolution for “conservation easement” of the land instead of pursuing development proposals.

The University of South Florida Student Government (SG) Senate has joined the list of those trying to protect the 769-acre USF Forest Preserve from possible construction.

The 22-member senate voted unanimously to pass the resolution last week with Senate President Junayed Jahangir abstaining. The resolution calls for a “conservation easement” of the land north of the Tampa campus.

Eight proposals were submitted in June in response to the university’s request for information (RFI) to explore options to develop the land. The proposals include plans from housing construction to retail.

In May, USF officials issued a statement that said the RFI does not require them to take any action.

A conservation easement would give up the university’s right to sell or develop the land, according to the resolution’s author, Nora Amato, USF SG senator and Tampa Campus Council chairwoman.

“To us, that seemed like the most permanent solution,” said Amato. “We didn't want to just put a Band-Aid on it and say, ‘Hey, take this RFI off the market.’ We wanted to say, ‘We never want this part of land to be on the market ever again.’”

Amato collaborated with USF integrative biology students Stephen Hesterberg and Jeannie Mounger on the resolution.

She met the two after seeing their Instagram page, which raises awareness about their effort to preserve the land.

“I really wanted it to be up to them what they wanted to do in Student Government,” said Amato. “I viewed this more as, not really my own resolution, but I really just wanted to be their voice.”

The resolution divides its argument for the land’s preservation into three categories — the preserve’s “educationally valuable natural classroom, environmentally sensitive lands, and cultural resources.”

It also cites conflicts that developing the land would have with other USF plans like the 2015-2025 Campus Master Plan and the “10-year blueprint for a bold future” that then-President Steven Currall unveiled in June.

Both projects include the university promoting conservation or sustainability.

“If you want a blueprint for a more sustainable future, yet you are proposing potential development of a very large carbon sink, that just doesn't make a lot of sense,” said Amato.

A carbon sink is a natural environment that soaks carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing the preserve not only threatens this, according to Amato, but also its place as a home to 20 threatened and endangered plants and animals.

“I can't really imagine the mental process of releasing the RFI, and then writing about how badly you want to be a sustainable university.”

The SG Senate’s resolution comes after students and faculty protested the possibility of the land’s development. There is also a petition in support of the land’s preservation with over 22,500 signatures as of July 29.

In May, the USF Faculty Senate passed a similar resolution in favor of protecting the land by a 54-3 vote.

Jorgelina Manna-Rea is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second straight semester with WUSF.
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