Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Howard's Blog

Howard A. Learner

Keeping the Midwest Wild

The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. What do they have in common?

First, they are natural area gems, with robust wildlife and great outdoor recreational opportunities enjoyed by many Midwesterners and visitors.

Second, they are federally protected public lands – the first national tallgrass prairie, an iconic national park, and one of the most visited and enjoyed national wildlife and fish refuges in the country. Each of these special places is established by an Act of Congress, and that designation is designed to provide enduring protections.

Third, they are all facing development threats. The ill-fated boondoggle Illiana Tollway and proposed Peotone Airport would exacerbate development pressures and harms to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Joliet, Illinois. The Davis Oil Refinery is proposed to operate just three miles outside of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and would impair scenic views of Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Elkhorn Ranch and the North Dakota Badlands. Now, the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line with up to 20-story high towers would cut a large swath through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. This huge line would run directly across a significant flyway for migratory birds, including whooping cranes.

ELPC’s public interest attorneys and policy advocates are working hard with national and local conservation group partners and clients to enforce protections on wild lands. So far, the misguided Illiana Tollway has been stopped, but the Peotone Airport proposal is probably coming back. The Davis Oil Refinery is stalled by the dramatic drop-off in active drilling rigs in the Bakken shale oil region. To protect the Driftless, ELPC public interest attorneys are representing the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, joined by the Defenders of Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuge Association. We filed a federal district court lawsuit challenging two federal agencies’ approvals of the huge transmission line cutting through the National Wildlife Refuge and the scenic Driftless Area’s vital natural resources.

These are all protected public lands. They are environmentally and ecologically worthy of protection, and Congress has passed legislation designating protections for these places. These are the special natural areas that Midwesterners enjoy for hiking, canoeing, fishing, camping, seeing wildlife, and just having fun in the great outdoors.

The shortest distance between two points might be how a proposed huge transmission line or highway would cut through one of these nationally protected areas, but that straight-line geometry ignores the ecology and the federal legislation establishing protections. It’s an excuse for failing to rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable alternatives to the project as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires. And it’s just plain wrong in these and many other cases.

These protected public lands are protected for good reasons. The tall grasses should continue to grow, providing vital bird, bison and other wildlife habitat in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, without heavy truck convoys on Route 53 and zooming truck fleets using the Illiana Tollway on the southern border of the Prairie. The whooping cranes and other migratory birds shouldn’t be at risk from 20-story transmission towers and huge lines cutting across the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. Teddy Roosevelt’s heritage in the wonderful National Park should be honored with views of his historic Elkhorn Ranch, buffalo, and other scenic vistas, not an oil refinery.

ELPC will keep fighting for clean air, safe water, and our wild and natural places.

Join us.

Howard A. Learner,

Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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