The Pinellas School Board has proposed to sell 14 acres of native forest to developers. Known as the West Klosterman Preserve, this land supports an abundance of wildlife and provides vital drainage. As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, the land constitutes some of the last 1 percent of original scrub left in Pinellas County, termed “an imperiled ecoregion of global importance” in a field survey prepared for a group trying to save it.
The natural world is in crisis, and the most vital lesson we can teach our children is how to restore it. In the last 50 years, human activity has wiped out two-thirds of the world’s wildlife. The United Nations has named the 2020s the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in an effort to halt biodiversity collapse. An international movement is underway to conserve 30 percent of the world’s natural lands. Our School Board should champion these efforts rather than thwart them. In addition, this tract offers a rare outdoor classroom that can provide invaluable science education.
Purchased in 1990 by Pinellas County Schools using taxpayer money, this land belongs to the public. Under no circumstances should it be sold to developers. If the School Board can find no way to use it, it should transfer the land to the county for preservation in perpetuity. To stop the sale, local citizens formed the nonprofit WK Preservation Group and collected 6,500 signatures opposing development.
The group is raising money to purchase the land, though even if it is successful, the land would still be owned by the county. It’s absurd that we taxpayers are forced to buy this land back from ourselves, and the least the School Board can do is give this group more time to raise enough cash to stop the bulldozers.
Liz Drayer is an attorney and longtime environmental advocate. In 2020 she ran for mayor of Clearwater on a nature rights platform.