ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – Local environmental groups are working to save a prairie located on the Chicago Rockford International Airport. The expansion plans include a road over part of the habitat, but construction has stopped after the sighting of an endangered species .
Now, the groups are reportedly hoping that airport administrators will listen, and reconsider plans to destroy a portion of the prairie.
Jack Armstrong, a board member for the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, said that the construction was recently paused at the Bell Bowl Prairie due to the sighting of Rusty Patched Bumblebees, an endangered species. Now, he hopes work will permanently stop, or change routes.
“If they build a road through there, it of course would destroy the plants and animals in that area,” Armstrong said. “The prairie itself is very unusual, it has some very unusual plants on it. It has flowers, and a bunch of other grasses, on the prairie that are rare in Illinois.”
Chicago Rockford International Airport’s executive director Mike Dunn aid that they have “voluntarily agreed with the state to temporarily pause construction on a very small parcel of land. The state and airport agreed that there is a report of a specific type of bumblebee in the affected area.”
“The way the road is looking now, it is the most direct way, right across the prairie,” Armstrong said.
Kerry Leigh, the Executive Director of the National Land Institute, said that Bell Bowl Prairie is not legally protected. It is listed as a natural area inventory site, but the airport authority has full control over what happens to it.
“We now have less than 1/10 of 1% of prairies left in the state of Illinois,” Leigh said. “I really think that economic development and protection of our natural resources should go hand in hand, and one does not preclude the other. It is not just the plants and animals, it is the benefits the natural resources give to us. They are our clean air, our clean water. The natural resource world provides everything we exist with.”
Dunn said that at the request of the state, the airport has agreed to salvage plants within the construction corridor.