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USF Forest Preserve advisory committee recommendations don't go far enough, activists say

Brownish water with patches of green vegetation. Brown dried trees within the water create a dome effect and reflect in the water. Little bits of blue sky can be seen between high branches.
Jeannie Mounger
Adjacent to USF's Tampa campus off Fletcher Avenue lies the USF Forest Preserve, which is used as a natural classroom by students and teachers within the Department of Integrative Biology.

USF Interim President Rhea Law announced in a university-wide email Tuesday that none of the development ideas submitted last year for the USF Forest Preserve and Claw golf course will be considered.

A University of South Florida advisory committee has submitted its recommendations for what to do with a golf course and about 500 acres of undeveloped land off Fletcher Avenue in Tampa.

One committee member and activist said the document doesn't do enough to protect the USF Forest Preserve, which is used as a natural classroom because of the important plant and animal species living there.

In letter to USF Interim President Rhea Law, the North Fletcher Property Advisory Committee said the preserve is not suitable for conventional development, but it doesn't suggest steps for legal conservation because the university is leasing the land from the state.

View the committee recommendations below:

Jeannie Mounger, who was on the committee and is co-organizer of a grassroots campaign to save the preserve, wrote a formal letter of dissent to Law.

In it, she points to an example of a conservation easement on state-leased land at the University of Central Florida. Mounger said she has concerns about what would happen without such protections.

"This recommendation may be too pro-business. … We run the risk of seeing future developmental interests around this property," she said.

Mounger helped form the Save USF Forest Preserve campaign, after then-president Steve Currall asked developers for ideas to build on the property in April of 2021.

When Law took over, she appointed 13 faculty, students and staff to an advisory committee in October 2021, chaired by Dean Tom Frazer of the College of Marine Science. The committee was charged with reviewing an ecological assessment report of the property and making recommendations for its future.

Mounger said the assessment also favored preservation.

View the ecological assessment below:

"This concept of a conservation easement was included in the ecological assessment by Heidt Design that was contracted by interim president Rhea Law, so it's not an… unprecedented concept."

In an email response to Mounger's letter Monday, Law said, “I think this is an avenue we can consider in planning for future use or management of the site.”

Mounger is happy with one aspect of the recommendation letter, though: to hire a full-time facilities manager who would oversee land management.

"That idea of a facilities manager or land manager has been something that lots of faculty have been talking about and recommending for decades," she said.

The committee also created a set of guiding principles for the university to consider for future discussions about planning and development.

View the guiding principles below:

Interim President Law sent a university-wide email on Tuesday detailing the advisory committee recommendations and making another announcement: The university will not pursue any of the proposals it received in April to develop the property and has ended it's request for information process.

“In the coming weeks, I will review the committee’s materials in more detail," Law said. "Prior to serving as president, I spent many years as an environment and land use attorney. I will apply that experience, combined with the committee’s report, to carefully assess our next steps for each portion of the property.”

Since 2012, I’ve been a voice on public radio stations across Florida - in Miami, Fort Myers, and now Tampa.