Members of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) passed a resolution to encourage the university to legally protect the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve on Oct. 27.
The Ashley Schiff Preserve — 22 acres of woodland behind Roth Quad — was established in 1970. There is no legal status preventing the administration from expanding into the preserve, though President Maurie McInnis says there are no such plans.
The preserve was created in honor of political science professor Ashley Schiff, who died suddenly in 1969.
Schiff was the master of Cardozo Hall at a time when professors doubled as Residence Hall Directors (RHDs). He was highly regarded by the student body for his efforts to improve student life. These efforts included donating and planting flowers around the eroding Roth Pond.
Schiff was also known for his activism. Most notably, he once chained himself to a tree to prevent its removal. His early death shocked the campus and led to then-President John S. Toll’s creation of the preserve in his honor. Toll hoped the preserve would be a place where “future generations at Stony Brook can learn to share his appreciation of nature.”
Despite Toll’s intentions, the preserve has no legal protection behind it. Stony Brook students and staff are working to change that.
The “Protect Ashley Schiff Preserve Resolution” is sponsored by USG Senator Alex Cassamassima, a senior majoring in sustainability studies, and the Sustainability, Operations, Infrastructure and Livelihood (SOIL) director, Kelliane Ticcony.
Ticcony, a senior majoring in marine science and sustainability studies, spoke on the preserve’s importance.
“There’s a lot of significant wildlife, like endangered chestnut trees that’ve been cataloged in the preserve, and it’s also used as a living laboratory for classes,” Ticcony said.
Resolutions are non-binding statements that express USG’s sentiment on a particular issue. This particular resolution calls on the administration to protect the preserve from future development.
The University Senate, which consists of faculty creating the administration’s policy, adopted a similar resolution in 2019. Their resolution stated that the university should “implement and support formal, written, and permanent protection of the Ashley Schiff Preserve as a ‘Forever Wild’ natural area on the Stony Brook campus.”
Evidently, no legal protection of the preserve resulted from the 2019 resolution.
According to President Maurie McInnis, the administration has no plans to expand into the preserve. However, there is no guarantee that this will be the case for future administrations.
Beyond commemorating the late professor, the preserve also serves as a space for sustainability and ecology professors to hold classes. The Friends of Ashley Schiff Preserve, a faculty organization dedicated to maintaining the preserve and securing legal status for it, also grants $1,000 annually to facilitate student research at the site.
The president of the organization, Dr. Sharon Pochron, addressed the USG Senate meeting on Oct. 27 when the resolution passed. She spoke about the preserve’s history, as well as the role the Friends of Ashley Schiff Preserve plays, citing their two demands of the university: do as much as possible to secure legal protection of the land and ensure it remains open for research.
The organization also keeps the preserve clean. Pochron cited its importance as an accessible green space on campus for student leisure.
At the USG Senate meeting, the resolution passed with three abstentions and no votes against it. Though the resolution is non-binding, the sponsors of the bill were hopeful it would call the administration’s attention.
McInnis addressed the Senate on Nov. 5. She replied to Cassamassima’s question about the resolution.
“I will just say, we have no intentions of building on the preserve,” McInnis said. “I don’t know that it needs a legislative act to guarantee that … but that is something that comes up every year and we are happy to keep talking about it.”
Cassamassima and Ticcony found her response lacking.
“We need a response that says something more since she has the ability to protect the preserve, so [that’d be] the only statement that would mean something,” Ticcony said.
“[McInnis] basically said, ‘there are currently no plans to develop on the land, so I don’t think [legal protection] is necessary.’ I felt that she could have answered the question better,” Cassamassima said.
With no change to the legal status of the preserve coming in the foreseeable future, the sponsors of the resolution are disappointed. But, they are hopeful that change can be achieved by putting more pressure on the administration.
“From this point, it’s just activism and outreach. We do have the student support, because at the end of the day, we can’t ourselves protect the preserve, but we can try on behalf of the student body to get McInnis and Administration to protect [it]. A meeting with McInnis to discuss the preserve could be [the] next step, too,” Ticcony said.
“Our job as senators is to spread the word about the preserve and get more people to care,” Cassamassima said.