University advisory committee recommends management for USF Forest Preserve; is it enough protection?

University of South Florida Tampa development Biology

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A University of South Florida committee has written its recommendations for the USF Forest Preserve and an adjacent golf course north of the Tampa campus.

USF’s president says ‘we have ended the RFI process’

On Tuesday, USF’s interim president wrote a letter to the USF community saying she would review the committee’s recommendations. In the letter, Rhea Law said, “We will not be pursuing any of the responses to the original Request for Information (RFI) posted in April 2021 and we have ended the RFI process.”

On WMNF’s Tuesday Café, host Seán Kinane spoke about the recommendations by the North Fletcher Property Advisory Committee and the dissent by one of its members.

Dr. Jeannie Mounger is a member of Save USF Forest Preserve and recently earned her doctoral degree from the Department of Integrative Biology at USF. She’s also on the North Fletcher Property Advisory Committee.

Recommendations by the North Fletcher Property Advisory Committee

The committee emailed USF’s interim President Rhea Law on Friday its recommendations.

USF’s decisions about properties “should effectively weigh and balance the benefits of developing revenue-generating projects with the preservation of natural areas.”

One recommendation is that the USF Forest Preserve is not suitable for conventional development and that the land’s “natural state and inherent ecological value … continues to provide tremendous benefit to USF.”

Wetlands mitigation

It also said the USF Forest Preserve “likely provide(s) a simultaneous opportunity for wetland mitigation.”

The committee’s recommendations also mention some “improvements” to the property like research and teaching facilities.

It recommends hiring a facility manager for the Forest Preserve (and possibly for the USF Botanical Gardens and GeoPark).

Mounger’s dissent of the recommendation

On Monday, Mounger wrote a letter to President Law that was, “to formally enter into record my dissent of the recommendation provided to you by said committee.” She said it “does not adequately address long-term protections.”

“Furthermore, it is my opinion that the committee did not satisfactorily take up discussion of avenues for permanent legal protection of the Forest Preserve despite the recommendation provided by Heidt Design that a conservation easement would be an appropriate measure for lands of such great ecological significance.”

Conservation easement?

Mounger suggested a conservation easement, such as one that the University of Central Florida has worked out with its partner Conservation Florida.

Should the adjacent golf course be redeveloped?

There’s also a question about what to do with the golf course adjacent to the USF Forest Preserve. When considering development, the committee says, “Of particular concern are effects on the hydrology of the adjoining areas, i.e., surface and groundwater connections.”

Listen to the full show here:

Watch WMNF’s interview with Dr. Jeannie Mounger with Save USF Forest Preserve here:

Also on the show: Stand with Parkland

Also on the show, we interviewed Tony Montalto, president of Stand with Parkland – The National Association of Families for Safe Schools.