Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Christopher F. Meindl, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca A. Johns, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gary R. Mormino, Ph.D.


Environment, Section 404, Florida, Topophilia, Biophilia


This thesis is an interdisciplinary analysis of humans' relationship to the natural environment, specifically how wetlands are reflected in our legislative decisions. Our perceptions of wetlands and our relationship to the environment are influenced by our locality, history, and inter-generational relationships. These perceptions shape decision-making within a community. Our relationship to the natural environment and the way we interact with it can be explained through psychological and geographical theories. Historical trends reveal our consistently negative perspectives of wetlands in the United States and a rapid decline in wetlands acreage. At the federal, state, and local level, Americans have attempted to agree upon regulations that protect both essential wetland functions and private property rights. Literature, academic discourse, newspaper articles, local voices, county employees, and legislation help reveal the relationship between perceptions of wetlands and the regulations that affect these ecosystems.

Hillsborough County's wetland controversy exemplifies a debate between differing public attitudes toward wetlands similar to that seen across the state and country. Pressure from landowners and developers encouraged the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission to vote to eliminate the county wetland protection division in the summer of 2007. Public concern following this decision led to debate about the significance of local wetland regulations. The decision to eliminate the wetland protection division was placed on hold for further discussion. In the first four chapters I examine the historical, social and psychological roots of our relationship to wetlands. Then, chapters five and six address wetland regulations on the federal and state levels. Chapter seven is a case study of Hillsborough County's wetlands controversy that arose in summer 2007 with a commission vote to do away with the county wetlands protection. Finally, in chapter eight I attempt to bring together all sides of the wetlands conversation into towards finding a solution to what position county governments should take in regulating wetland impacts and use.