Much of South Florida and the Caribbean once consisted of a unique ecosystem now classified as Pine Rockland. Due to irresponsible development, this ecosystem has been drastically compromised. Parts of Miami and the Bahamas are now the only two areas in the world where this threatened ecosystem continues to exist.
Furthermore, the area that the University plans to develop on its South Campus is the largest remaining tract of the ecosystem in Miami-Dade County, outside of Everglades National Park. It is home to 21 state-endangered species, two of which are federally endangered.
Why, then, is the University planning to develop land with such intrinsic value? Even more importantly, how have proponents been able to circumvent the Endangered Species Act that should serve to protect our most highly valued plants?
UM defends its decision to develop the land by purporting its actions as less destructive than they seem. However, after examining the evidence, it becomes readily apparent that UM’s interests are rooted in profit and image rather than environmental responsibility.
One of the University’s main defensive points is that it plans to preserve approximately 43 acres of the property with the help of Fairchild Tropical Gardens. However, many experts in the field of environmental conservation believe that such a plan is not feasible. First of all, the ecosystem at hand needs to be burned in order to flourish. Because of proximity to residential homes, prescribed burns on the area cannot occur safely. Without these burns, exotic species will invade and choke the natural ecosystem to death.
Furthermore, development almost always has unanticipated adverse affects on the surrounding environment. Pine Rockland is a fragile ecosystem, and any changes to it would be extremely detrimental. If this rare ecosystem and its endangered species are to survive, the whole area must be preserved.
Some environmental groups on this campus believe that letting UM develop the land is the lesser of two evils. It seems that they think the land will inevitably be developed, and that the University will do it most responsibly. On the contrary, this is not the only option. UM could sell the land to one of many governmental or private endangered land programs that would preserve the land for future generations.
Development is not the only option and certainly not the best. The University has a very unique opportunity to do something incredible here for science and the environment. Instead, it is doing an incredible disservice to its students, its staff and the community as a whole by destroying a valuable ecosystem.
If the University of Miami is concerned for the state of the environment, as its new “green” image suggests, it needs to live up to its credo. Preserving, rather than developing, this precious ecosystem should be its ultimate concern.
Miles Kenney-Lazar is a sophomore majoring in geography. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Katie Herleman also contributed to this column and can be contacted email@example.com.