CHICAGO — The rusty patched bumblebee, a bee species now considered endangered, but was once common in Chicago's western suburban region, lies at the heart of an ongoing legal battle over the future of a new road planned to cross the Fox River in western Kane County.
And while federal law, including the Endangered Species Act, prescribes a range of procedures to ensure the concerns of endangered species are minded, in this case, Lori Ann Burd, an attorney and environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the system "didn't work as well as it should have."
Burd, who now lives in Oregon, said she has been aware of concerns surrounding the bumblebees for some time.
“I actually grew up just on the edge of the range of the rusty patched bumblebee,” Burd says. "it's an area close to my heart."
Although her organization isn’t involved in the dispute between Kane County and the local residents and other activists opposing the so-called Longmeadow Parkway, she said her organization works extensively in the area of endangered species.
Bumblebees are important, she said, because “90 percent of native plants require insect pollination. Without wild bees we can say goodbye to a lot of things we really care about. There are a lot of things which can’t be pollinated or aren’t as efficiently pollinated except by bumblebees or other native bees, like tomatoes and blueberries, in addition to lots of wild plants.”
On April 17, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, presiding in Chicago, issued a temporary restraining order to the builders constructing a bridge over the Fox River. The project, however, was stopped for less than two weeks. A group called Stop Longmeadow is continuing its efforts to halt the project, saying they are trying to protect the bumblebee habitat in Kane County's Brunner Forest Preserve, through which a section of the Longmeadow Parkway already travels.
The rusty patched bumblebee was just put on the endangered species list this past March.
Although Burd hasn’t been involved in this dispute, she is very concerned.
This particular project and case is "unique and interesting," Burd said.
“This is a little bit of a different situation because the bee finally received federal protection on March 21, 2017," she said. "This project is also interesting because, from what I gather, they did the environmental analysis for it in the early 2000s, but are just now moving forward with the project. The analysis they did at that time did not reflect the current conditions and the current circumstances. Even if they had done it a year or two ago, they would have had information from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that said, 'Hey, this species is tanking, currently found in .1 percent of its historic range, we’re probably going to be taking action on it.'
"Our environmental laws are designed so that this doesn’t happen. In this case, that process didn’t work as well as it should have. Construction has not been halted. The temporary restraining order did not extend into May.”
Burd stressed that environmental impact is usually considered when road construction is being planned.
“Typically when they are figuring out routing, they look at endangered species concerns the way they look at every other factor that they incorporate in the routing," Burd says. "Eminent domain issues, water issues—maybe hundreds or thousands of issues are looked at in that process.”