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Environmental activists sue over Rockford’s Bell Bowl Prairie, home to endangered rusty bumblebees

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This week, environmentalists said they intend to return to federal court as the battle to protect Rockford’s Bell Bowl Prairie, where the federally endangered rusty bumblebee was found, escalated. rice field.

The Natural Land Institute, a nonprofit organization that opposes Chicago Rockford International Airport’s plans to build a road through the center of the Bell Bowl, said their attorneys have filed complaints with local, state, and federal agencies. He said he had sent a letter informing him of his plans to file a lawsuit. Endangered Species Act.

the letter is Independent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service findings The decline in rust-spotted bumblebees is partly due to the loss of grasslands and grasslands in much of the upper Midwest and Northeast.

“Despite this conclusion, the USFWS is now inexplicably allowing development and construction (including road construction) on the Bell Bowl Prairie of types that are inexplicably leading to the extinction of bees,” said the Natural Land Institute. A letter from a lawyer said:

US Fish & Wildlife did not respond to a request for comment, and an airport spokeswoman declined to comment.

Environmentalists who filed a previous federal lawsuit in August were dismissed without prejudice (allowing environmentalists to try again), but an 18-month period to protect 15.5 acres of grasslands In battle, you are running out of options. – Preserved “high quality” habitats.

State and federal evaluations were completed in December, and the Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources all determined that the project is unlikely to adversely affect rust-patched bumblebees. .

Only a final written reassessment by the Federal Aviation Administration remains, and the airport will sacrifice 9.3 acres of bee habitat, including 1.7 acres of top-quality prairie land, before it begins building the road. Become.

Environmentalists say the road, part of a $50 million airport cargo expansion project, should be rerouted east or southeast to avoid top quality prairies and maximize overall prairie protection. says there is.

“We are not trying to stop the expansion of the airport,” Kerry Leigh, executive director of the Natural Land Institute, told Tribune in 2022.

A letter announcing the intention to file a lawsuit US Fish and Wildlife’s own previous findingsincluding that rust-spotted bumblebees are “so endangered that all remaining populations are critical to the survival of the species.”

According to government documents cited in the letter, state and federal agencies have decided to proceed with the trail through Bell Bowl because there is larger, and possibly better, rusty bumblebee habitat within 10 kilometers of the prairie. Allowed. Nearby habitat includes parts of the Severson Dells Forest Reserve, Funderberg Forest Reserve, Levi and Esther Fuller Memorial Forest Reserve, and Howard Colman Hall Creek Reserve.

A rust-spotted bumblebee specimen in the Field Museum's Insects, Arachnids, and Myriapods collection.

But the letter’s authors argue that the Endangered Species Act does not allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate the Bell Bowl project based on whether it “leads to the extinction of mass species.” .

“Instead, the USFWS… must ask whether this project could adversely affect populations of this endangered species. As the consultation process has shown, the answer to this question is , the project intentionally impacted bee habitat, leading to (bee) mortality,” the letter said.

In August 2021, a rust-spotted bumblebee was found foraging in a bell bowl shortly after alerting a bulldozer near the prairie and learning of plans for the airport to build a road. rice field.

Lee said environmentalists still want the airport to apply for funding for a redesign that will move the road and save the heart of the prairie. There is also federal funding they can apply for, but they don’t. “

“All they have to do is apply for funding, and then this whole lawsuit will go away,” Lee said.

nschoenberg@chicagotribun.com

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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