NEW: Bell Bowl Prairie given temporary reprieve

Bulldozing planned for Nov. 1 halted until next spring, airport says

Chicago Rockford International Airport announced yesterday that it is stopping construction at Bell Bowl Prairie until the spring after a grassroots outcry from prairie proponents locally and nationally. In a bit of a surprise, the airport released a statement late Thursday stating it will re-locate a detention basin that was slated for Bell Bowl Prairie, a rare gravel prairie and state natural area that is home to the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee. Advocates rejoiced at the news, though campaign organizers urged caution.

The effort to save Bell Bowl Prairie has been led by local nonprofit organizations the Natural Land Institute and Sinnissippi Audubon and thousands of grassroots supporters. It was approximately two months ago that local residents noticed the grading work at the airport and notified the Natural Land Institute and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Work paused until Nov. 1 due to the presence of the Bumble Bee.

The campaign has drawn headlines across Chicagoland, including an editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday that supported the preservation of the prairie. Earlier this week, the Natural Land Institute announced a suit seeking injunctive relief toward stopping airport construction.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources suggested earlier this month that some prairie plants could be re-located, which drew many concerns from ecologists and others. As noted in this space, if the prairie disappeared before next spring, where would all the Bobolinks, Dickcissels and numerous other bird species breed next year?

The fight isn’t over yet, as the campaign organizers note below. Let’s hope the prairie makes it through this intact.

The thought I keep coming back to is this: how do we make sure this type of thing never ever happens again at an Illinois natural area. And that is a goal worth striving toward for a long while into the future.

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