WHITE CITY — Those interested in wading into the vernal pools debate can learn about the pools' habitat and proposed conservation and mitigation strategies during an informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rogue Valley Sewer Services.

WHITE CITY — Those interested in wading into the vernal pools debate can learn about the pools' habitat and proposed conservation and mitigation strategies during an informational meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rogue Valley Sewer Services.

The session will review plans for improving conservation while streamlining wetland mitigation requirements for vernal pools in the Agate Desert.

The area northwest of White City contains the threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp and a rare water flea as well as two endangered plants, Cook's desert parsley and the large-flowered woolly meadowfoam. Vernal pools generally disappear by late spring as temperatures rise.

Development has altered nearly 60 percent of the original Agate Desert, leaving only an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the vernal pools intact and ecologically functional, researchers report.

As a result, the Agate Desert vernal pools have been designated as "wetlands of special interest for protection" by the state of Oregon.

Landowners, developers and government agencies are trying to find a balance between the needs of the unique pool habitat and human activity, according to Louise Solliday, director of the Oregon Department of State Lands.

"Planners and citizens in Jackson County have been working closely with state and federal agencies on the complex regulations relating to development impacts in vernal pool wetlands," she said in a prepared statement.

"The primary goal is to find a faster track for issuing permits, while conserving these important habitats," she added.

In addition to state lands, agencies participating in the workshop include Jackson County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Facilitating the workshop will be the Rogue Valley Council of Governments.

The wetland conservation plan is being locally driven, explained Craig Harper, natural resources program manager for RVCOG.

The workshop is "a tool to help in the implementation of the wetlands conservation plan," he said.

"The goal is to have the final plan out by the end of the year."

When it is adopted, it will be used for a three-year trial period, then adjusted if needed, he said.

"Stakeholders and others have been asking questions like: How much do we need to save? How do you mitigate for development? If you protect wetlands in good shape, how much credit do you get for that?" he said.

"These guidelines will provide the answer."

Information about the regional mitigation and conservation strategy for the Agate Desert vernal pool wetlands is available at www.oregonstatelands.us.

Written comments on the proposal are due July 30.

They should be directed to: Judy Linton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, Regulatory Branch (CENWP-OD-G), P.O. Box 2946, Portland 97208-2946.

They can also be sent via e-mail to judy.l.linton@usace.army.mil.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.