August 2021 – For years University of South Florida (USF) master planning documents maintained the designation of an approximately 641 acre “Forest Preserve” for a large tract of pristine wildlife fronting on the Hillsborough River and adjacent to the main campus. The USF Forest Preserve is not only important to the University for research and teaching but is also an important part of the river’s ecosystem and to the residents and visitors of Hillsborough County. The Forest Preserve is used for student and faculty research. More than 70 research papers in peer‐reviewed literature have been focused on the forest preserve, as have more than 20 M.S. theses and Ph.D. dissertations. The USF Forest Preserve, with frontage on the Hillsborough River, is an important and increasingly rare riverine habitat that provides important surface water quality functions for the river. Loss of this land in its natural state would be detrimental to the river and the quality of life of the people of Hillsborough County.
Despite designation as a “Preserve,” USF issued a Request for Information for the Development of the USF Golf Course and what it also calls in this document an “Undeveloped Campus” rather than a “Forest Preserve.” Since then, a contingent of residents, including USF students and faculty, have taken up the cause get the property permanently preserved.
The Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board was created in 1986 by the Florida Legislature to coordinate planning and development in and around the Hillsborough River Corridor. The Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board is supported by environmental professionals and citizens on their Technical Advisory Council. The Technical Advisory Council recommended the River Board take action in June to support permanent preservation of the USF Forest Preserve.
In July 2021, the River Board unanimously voted to ask USF to protect the property as a nature preserve in perpetuity. There are a variety of methods, opportunities, and programs available to support this that will allow students and academics to continue to utilize the land for scholarly programs, and the Hillsborough River and residents would have the benefits of a clean and heathy river corridor for their enjoyment in generations to come.