Most universities in Florida can’t boast that they have over 300 acres of protected green space directly on campus– but UNF can. The Sawmill Slough, a 383 acre nature preserve located right on campus, is a critical asset to UNF. Student Government wants to make it even bigger.
Senator Catherine Selin presented a Joint Resolution to the Senate that seeks to expand the amount of protected space in the preserve to just under 500 acres, annexing new portions of green space into the protected area.
The plan was originally proposed 5 years ago by the Environmental Center and Sustainability Committee and had the support of Student Government, but was ultimately rejected by former University President Delaney.
Selin speculated that this rejection was due to the timing of the proposal, which coincided with the end of Delaney’s term and may have sparked worries about its sustainability during the transition between presidents.
Selin decided to bring the proposal back because in her eyes, “It’s a huge asset, and it’s significantly more valuable undeveloped than developed.”
The Sawmill Slough was first established in 2006 and is home to several important species, including the federally protected American alligator, bobcats, river otters, the federally endangered Gopher Tortoise, and 7 state threatened plant species.
“Originally I wanted to do something to just highlight the importance because of the new road construction that was happening, but then as I was looking more into it, I realized that sections of the preserve are not included.” This expansion would focus three sections of upland, including the Gopher Tortoise Ridge, Wildlife Corridor, and the Robert W. Loftin trails.
The Wildlife Corridor is already under easement, meaning no development can happen there, due to the construction of Eco Road.
The Loftin trails are recognized by the US Department of Interior as part of the National Trails System.
“The reason that that was not included was because, during the original designation of the preserve, they really just wanted to focus on the wetlands,” said Selin about the trails. “They decided to just exclude it because it was technically upland, which is also why the Gopher Ridge was excluded.”
The nature preserve is open to students for educational and recreation purposes, and 14 academic research papers have been published on the nature preserve by UNF faculty.
According to Selin’s research on the use of the preserve, roughly 1,200 UNF students use the nature preserve every year for research across the Departments of Biology, Public Health, Geography, and Art and Design.
“Often times when I ask people, they’re like ‘oh I’ve never been out there.’ It’s really disappointing, but it’s a huge asset to the university. It’s one of our most unique characteristics,” Selin said during the Senate meeting.
Selin also works as the coordinator for the Environmental Education Program, where young students in Jacksonville visit the preserve for field trips and educational purposes.
“I can confidently say more than 1,000 students come a month for programs. We have student groups kindergarten through 8th grade come out and learn about our preserve every month,” she said.
The JR was approved by the Senate with unanimous consent and will now be forwarded to President Szymanski, Provost Rhodes, and the Board of Trustees to make the final decision on the expansion.
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