Home Illinois Rockford Airport’s Bell Bowl Prairie expansion begins Thursday despite efforts to protect...

Rockford Airport’s Bell Bowl Prairie expansion begins Thursday despite efforts to protect habitat for endangered bumblebees – Chicago Tribune


Construction on the Rockford Airport began Thursday morning in the Bell Bowl Prairie after the Federal Aviation Administration approved an alternative plan for a roadway across the prairie.

One of the last ancient prairies in Illinois to be home to the endangered rusty patched bumblebee, it has been at the center of a dispute between the airport and environmentalists since 2021.

An emergency motion to suspend On Wednesday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Natural Lands Institute’s bid to prevent the airport from starting construction.

Later that day, dozens of people attended a rally in Rockford online and in person, which began with guitar-driven songs including Tom Chapin’s “This Pretty Planet.” People planning to attend the next prairie vigil were promised to make their own rusty patched bumblebee hats out of empty milk jugs. Among the speakers were community organizers and local leaders.

“Regardless of the outcome of this fight, we know we’ve put everything we’ve got into it,” environmental organizer Jillian Nees said at the rally. “We can stand here knowing that we have done everything we can and will continue to do everything we can until the last minute.”

Kerry Lee, executive director of the Land Institute, said the emergency petition was rejected by two of the three judges. The group requested a full vote. Institute on Saturday filed a petition for reconsideration with the appeals court challenging the FAA’s 374-page ruling written assessment and calling it “arbitrary, capricious and legally erroneous.”

“There’s no mention of how the road that splits it down the middle will hurt the rest of the split prairie — it’s unclear if they still plan to take care of the rest of the split prairie,” the institute said in a news release. “Nothing is mentioned about how the irreplaceable soil, microbes, fungi, dormant plants and insects can be managed after they are excavated.”

According to an FAA statement, “Chicago Rockford International Airport will preserve more than six acres of Bell Bowl Prairie. This includes over three acres of high quality prairie. Any excavation and brush and brush clearing in the project area will be carried out between October 15 and March 15 to avoid impacting the Rusty-spotted Bumblebee and to avoid Black-billed Cuckoo and Mountain Sandpiper nesting seasons.”

The original prairie was about 25 acres, most of which has already been destroyed, Lee said, “and now they want to destroy more, which is not normal.”

“We have 1/100th of 1% of the prairie left in the state of Illinois,” she said. “It’s shocking, isn’t it? This native prairie is ancient. He is 8000 years old. This is the real America. Ancient America”.

Environmentalists say the road, part of a $50 million cargo airport expansion project, should be redirected to the east or in the Southeast, where the highest quality prairies would be avoided and overall prairie conservation would be maximized.

Leigh said species are dying out every day, and losing more habitat only means more species will have nowhere to live and die out.

“There’s a tipping point where we can only lose so much habitat,” she said. “We are closely connected with nature, which gives us clean water, clean air, the air we breathe. Pollinators are also critical to this nation’s food security. The future of our lives really depends on it.”

Rockford airport officials did not respond to requests for comment.

A rusty patched specimen of a bumblebee in the Field Museum.

After March 15, the airport will have to wait until October to resume any activity that could destroy bumblebee habitat. Endangered species laws state that habitat must be protected when a rare organism is present in an area, but once it leaves, the habitat can be disturbed.

The Illinois Endangered Species Act requires state agencies to consult with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on any projects that may change environmental conditions or may affect wildlife. But even when the department makes recommendations, it doesn’t have the authority to require organizations to take any of the mitigation steps it outlines.

The Bell Bowl Prairie case exemplifies this lack of enforcement. INDR has begun a review of the airport’s expansion plans in 2018. The local field workers of the institute learned about the project only when they saw bulldozers on the territory in 2021Lee told the Tribune in December.

Afternoon briefing

Every day

Top articles from Chicago Tribune editors delivered to your inbox every day.

Shortly thereafter, field staff inspected the property and noticed a rusty patched bumblebee, a discovery that halted construction. Prairie owned by the airport has since experienced a a series of postponements.

IDNR then updated its recommendation and advised that the airport expansion project undergo a more in-depth review, a process that would require the development of a robust conservation plan and a significant public comment period. But the airport dropped out of the process.

After the FAA, Fish and Wildlife, and IDNR determined that the project was unlikely to adversely affect bumblebees, the Land Institute announced in January that her lawyers sent a letter to local, state and federal agencies informing them of plans to file a lawsuit alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act. The FAA’s written reassessment, released Friday, was the latest hurdle to moving construction forward.

State and federal agencies allow the road to continue through Bell Bowl in part because there is larger and likely better rust-patched bumblebee habitat within 10 kilometers (or 6.2 miles) of the prairie, according to government documents.

The Chicago Tribune’s Maddie Ellis and Nara Schoenberg contributed.




Previous articleThe Bulls guard reportedly received more bad news this week
Next articlePizza Hut is bringing back the 90s era mini basketballs for March Madness