Local environmentalists fight to save the prairie at Chicago Rockford International Airport
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – A group of concerned community members recently expressed their opinion to the Rockford Airport board of directors.
Dozens of people filled the auditorium at the Chicago Rockford International Airport board meeting on Thursday night, asking airport executives to reconsider an expansion plan that would see a new road cross the Bell Bowl Prarie.
“Even though it’s small, it’s still important to preserve this area because you just can’t recreate the level of biodiversity that exists there,” said Jennifer Kuroda of the Sinnissippi Audubon Society. “I have seen grasslands all over the world, and none compare to the tall grass prairie we have here. None of them.”
Recently, construction on part of the project was halted after the endangered Rusty Patch bumblebee was discovered at the site. Zack Oakley, deputy director of operations and planning at Chicago Rockford International Airport, said the shutdown was only temporary. Work is expected to continue after the bee foraging season ends on November 1.
“When you look at the development of the airport, and you look at what’s going on, what’s been going on in the freight market, the need for shipments and products and everything out there, this development and this growth has happened so quickly that it’s inevitable, ”Oakley said.
Paul Baits, chairman of the board of the Natural Land Institute, is one of the people who championed the future of the prairie, and he said building on top of it was a big mistake.
“Sadly, of the 22 million acres that were originally prairie in Illinois, we’re down to about 2,500. That’s almost all gone. Every parcel is absolutely precious, the few that remain, ”said Baits. “Five acres is a significant percentage of what Illinois has left. “
However, Oakley said the airport had no other option.
“We evaluated other areas. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fit, ”Oakley said. “The Bell Bowl prairie we’re talking about, the way it goes through our middle zone, there’s really no way to move the causeway.”
Oakley said the airport was working with conservation agencies across the state to move some factories to the site. A botanist who spoke at the meeting reportedly said “wildlife is fragile” and predicted that many species will not survive a move.