OPINION: Leave USF Forest Preserve alone

The USF Forest Preserve is crucial to Tampa Bay, and action should be taken against plans to disturb the land.

Interim President Rhea Law formed an advisory committee to decide how to proceed in the development of the USF Forest Preserve following an Oct. 27 assessment that large swatches of the land are not suitable for development. 

The 769 acres of protected land are a crucial ecological and cultural resource. USF needs to listen to its students, faculty, Hillsborough officials and its own proclaimed values and leave it untouched. The university should not sacrifice its proclaimed values for economic gain.

This comes on the heels of USF’s April request for developers’ proposals as to how to rework the land. The proposals included hotels, a stadium and tech hubs.

The preserved land contains sensitive cultural and spiritual sites, including nine Native American historical sites and cemeteries.

With how the cultural sites are distributed, any ground-disturbing development will result in their destruction, according to Save USF Forest Preserve, a grassroots initiative of USF students and faculty fighting to protect the land. 

This preserved land is also crucial to the ecosystem of the Tampa Bay area.

The preserve’s 12 unique habitats are home to hundreds of native species, including 20 federally recognized endangered and threatened species, according to the USF Preserve’s website. The wetlands also act as a water and air filter for the entirety of Tampa Bay.

USF uses its green initiatives for good press, including recycling vending machines and the USF SAFE Team transitioning to electric golf carts as opposed to gas.

It is incredibly disingenuous for USF to publicize these “feats” while plotting ways to potentially develop one of the few preserved lands in Hillsborough County.

Save USF Forest Preserve has arranged a change.org petition and letter writing campaign to Law and the USF Board of Trustees to advocate for the natural resource. Students and faculty should take action in defense of this irreplaceable resource.

Law opened the committee’s meetings to the public, and is requesting that students give their input with uses for the land in the next month. Here’s a suggestion — leave it alone.

USF students and Hillsborough County as a whole need the ecological resources distributed by the preserve’s marshland network. What we don’t need is more gas stations and hotels.