A requiem for Bell Bowl Prairie
Pictures do indeed say a thousand words. On Wednesday night, a small group gathered on the outskirts of Rockford standing beside an ancient prairie. There’s a sense of foreboding in the late winter cold. You can almost hear the drum in the picture.
When dawn arrived the next morning, a bulldozer began plowing a path through ancient Bell Bowl Prairie, a glacial remnant, one of the last intact prairies in the so-called Prairie State. Birders, botanizers, and conservation advocates are still coming to grips with the destruction of a bountiful state natural area, its soil, microbes, fungi, plants, and insects lost forever.
Jessie Mermel and others held vigil overnight. It ended 18 months of fervent action to stop the Chicago-Rockford International Airport from building a road through the prairie.
“The legal system failed, our politicians didn’t do anything, our mayor sat silent, the governor hasn’t done anything, the airport board just sits there. It seems like there’s no accountability,” Mermel told WTTW.com. “We should have been able to do something.”
There will be additional time for reflection—and action—after we absorb the scale of what’s happened. May this be a call to action to update our broken endangered species law so other state natural areas—and endangered species—do not suffer the same fate.
“It’s not all for nothing. There’s an energy created here,” said Mermel. “I do want to say, it has been an inspiring movement. People have done so much, cared so much.”
My focus on Bell Bowl Prairie has been through the lens of state endangered birds including Blue Grosbeak, Loggerhead Shrike, Upland Sandpiper, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Bell’s Vireo. Prairie advocatewrote a fantastic piece earlier this week on bees.
Of the 100 bee species that use Bell Bowl Prairie, 46 of them are remnant-dependent species, meaning they do not survive without the complex web of life and soil structures found in a prairie remnant. And because there’s not an adjacent remnant for them to seek (diminished) refuge, these are Bell Bowl dependent bees.
He goes on:
This says nothing about Bell Bowl’s beetles, ants, moths, assassin bugs, nematodes, grasshoppers, spiders. Or wasps.
The full post is available here:
In case you missed my post on Tuesday, I suggest referring back to this Chicago Tribune piece from December on the road map for action moving forward. There’s a state rule in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that needs fixing, but additional investment in the woefully underfunded department would go a long way, too.
If you’re wondering what to do, I suggest that you reach out to your state representative and state senator. There’s no specific ask at this time, just introduce yourself. Ask for a constituent meeting. Educate them. Start a relationship in case it could help save a natural area in the future.
This is a very sad day and the frustrating thing about it is it didn't have to be this way. There were many good alternatives presented to the board. I'm so sorry that many have no regard for our environment and history. When we talk about leaving things for our children this would have been a golden opportunity , now lost.
It grieves me to click the heart and say I love this piece, because it does break my heart. But thank you for writing it. And thank you to everyone who tried to stop the destruction of this native prairie.