Suit could halt bulldozing of Bell Bowl Prairie

Prairie advocates propose alternatives for rare gravel prairie at Chicago Rockford International Airport

Conservation advocates sued the Greater Rockford Airport Authority in U.S. District Court today in an effort to halt the bulldozing of Bell Bowl Prairie, a state natural area that is home to many rare birds, the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee and dozens of native plant species.

As usual, WTTW’s Patty Wetli was on the story and provided details from a press conference that took place at the Winnebago County Courthouse this morning. The suit was brought by the Natural Land Institute, an organization founded by conservation legend George Fell, who, incidentally, also founded The Nature Conservancy.

“This is 2021. This type of design and disregard for our natural systems should no longer be tolerated at any level,” said Kerry Leigh, the institute’s executive director, speaking at the Wednesday morning press conference. “We should not have to be here.”

The story goes on:

Bulldozers are set to excavate Bell Bowl Prairie on Monday to pave the way for a new road being constructed as part of the expansion of Rockford Airport’s cargo facilities.

“Prairies are Illinois’ redwoods,” Leigh said. Bell Bowl represents a “fragment of what we once were and can still be,” and accounts for 25 of the 80 acres of high- or medium-quality gravel prairie remaining in the Prairie State, she added. Some of it has already been erased by the airport. 

Here is just what is at stake:

“We have our own small Yosemite just south of town (Rockford),” said Steven Hall, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Northwest River Valleys group. “Surely it’s worth a moment to think about what we’re about to destroy and whether there are better options.”

The Natural Land Institute and others have stated that the airport authority’s environmental assessment was riddled with flaws. The airport authority remains mum and has cancelled tomorrow’s monthly meeting of its Board.

Again, there are many ways to get involved in saving the prairie. I’m still encountering plenty of people who are not aware of this story. One great resource on the Save Bell Bowl Prairie website is its array of shareable graphics.

More details as they come.