The campus master plan, a 10-year projection for the University of West Florida, brings about many questions related to the University’s status as a nature preserve and its history involving land conservation.
Kyle Marrero, vice president of University Advancement, said the use of the term “nature preserve” when describing the campus is widely misunderstood.
“The campus is not, nor has it ever been, a nature preserve,” Marrero said. “It is only considered a wildlife sanctuary, which means no hunting or fishing.”
However, “nature preserve” is commonly used as a marketing term in several forms of media. For example, the term is mentioned in the facts section of the UWF website when describing the acreage and also appears on the University’s nature trail guides.
A nature preserve differs from a wildlife sanctuary in that it is a protected area of importance for wildlife or features of geological or other special interest, which is reserved and managed for conservation and to provide special opportunities for study or research. A wildlife sanctuary simply protects the wildlife residing in that environment, it does not place any limitations on building or construction.
The University has full range to build on the land it designates, because under its current status as a wildlife sanctuary, only hunting and fishing are prohibited, not deforestation.
Wade H. Jeffrey, biology professor and member of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation, said he believes the “green space” on campus will be significantly altered by the master plan.
“There does not seem to be much thought into the clear cutting going on in the campus and what it changes about the ecology of the campus groups,” he said. “In general, it seems as if the people in charge have not found undergrowth they do not want to clear and have not recognized the important role it plays in the ecosystem.”
Taylor Kirschenfeld, environmental studies professor and manager of the Escambia County Water Quality Division, said if the University plans to clear out much of its natural environment for construction, the impacts should be considered.
“The major issues to examine would be the potential storm water runoff impacts, wetland impacts and loss of trees,” he said.
In 1967, the Florida Board of Regents made an agreement declaring that the Edward Ball Wildlife Sanctuary be established on the main campus of UWF in order to “preserve and encourage wildlife and to enable students and visitors to study birds and other wildlife.”
In 1973, the Baars-Firestone Wildlife Sanctuary, located by the eastern entrance of campus, was established. That year, The Voyager reported the details of the importance of assuring that the sanctuary remain an untouched part of campus.
The article, written by Debra Amerson, details the establishment of the Baars-Firestone nature trail. Sharon Creighton, a biology graduate student at the time, developed the plan and arranged the financing of the nature trail.
The article explained how a “natural and nature-filled setting as well as saving space on campus for the preservation of plant and animal wildlife would be beneficial to the school.” The article also said that UWF was the only Florida educational institution at the time which had established nature trails.
“Because UWF was founded at a time when the importance of preserving the environment was recognized, it is possible to reserve some of the campus in its natural state,” Creighton said in the article.
If the University moves forward with its plan to deforest many acres of woodlands for construction of new facilities, how will that reflect back on its long-standing reputation of taking part in the preservation of the environment? It has been almost 30 years since the establishment of the Baars-Firestone Wildlife Sanctuary and the publishing of the subsequent article in The Voyager, but the common theme of preservation of plant and animal wildlife remains as present as it ever was, and should maintain a presence within the University, no matter the circumstances surrounding the master plan.
“UWF built a reputation, is recognized and has won awards for maintaining large areas of natural woodlands,” Jeffrey said. “But that seems to be lost in the name of ‘expansion and growth.’”