Local environmentalists fight to save prairie at Chicago Rockford International Airport

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – A group of concerned community members recently spoke their minds to the Rockford Airport authority board.

Dozens of people filled the auditorium at Chicago Rockford International Airport’s board meeting Thursday night, asking airport leaders to reconsider an expansion project that would see a new road cut through the Bell Bowl Prarie.

“Even though it is small, it is still important to preserve that area, because you just can not recreate that level of biodiversity that exists there,” said Jennifer Kuroda of the Sinnissippi Audubon Society. “I have seen prairies all over the world, and none of them compare to the tall grass prairie we have here. None of them.”

Recently, construction on a portion of the project was halted after the endangered Rusty Patch Bumblebee was discovered at the site. Zack Oakley, the Deputy Director of Operations and Planning at Chicago Rockford International Airport, said that the stoppage is only temporary. Work is scheduled to continue after the end of the bee’s foraging season, on November 1.

“When you look at development on the airport, and you look at what is happening, what has happened in the cargo market, the need for shipments and products and everything that is out there, this development and growth has been happening so rapidly it is unavoidable,” Oakley said.

Paul Baits, Board President for the Natural Land Institute, is one of the people who advocated for the future of the prairie, and he said that building over it is a big mistake.

“Sadly, out of the 22 million acres that were initially prairie in Illinois, we are down to about 2,500. It is almost all gone. Every single parcel is absolutely precious, those few that remain,” Baits said. “Five acres is a big percentage of what Illinois has remaining.”

However, Oakley said that the airport does not have any other option.

“We evaluated other areas. It, unfortunately, is not a fit,” Oakley said. “The Bell Bowl Prairie that is being discussed, the way it crosses the midfield area of ours, there is really no way to move the roadway.”

Oakley said that the airport is working with conservation agencies across the state in an effort to relocate some plants at the site. One botanist who spoke at the meeting reportedly said that “wildlife is fragile,” and predicted many species will not survive a move.

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