A California company has proposed setting aside 266 acres in Eagle Point for conservation and restoration of wetlands, home to federally listed threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp and other rare species.

A California company has proposed setting aside 266 acres in Eagle Point for conservation and restoration of wetlands, home to federally listed threatened vernal pool fairy shrimp and other rare species.

Wildlands Inc., of Rocklin, Calif., has permit applications pending with the Oregon Department of State Lands and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to sell development credits for wetlands mitigation at the property in view of the historic Walter Wood House at Highway 62.

DSL will accept public comments on the Rogue Valley Mitigation Bank proposal until July 9. For more information, see www.nwp.usace.army.mil/op/g/public.asp.

Wildlands expects a decision on the proposal by the end of the year or beginning of 2009.

Federal law requires property owners who destroy wetlands through development to help make up for it by protecting and/or restoring wetlands somewhere else. One way of fulfilling that obligation is to buy development credits from a wetlands mitigation bank. The land bank owner protects or restores the wetlands on the developer's behalf and usually turns a profit with the proceeds from selling the credits.

Wildlands bought the Eagle Point acreage in May from two property owners and is leasing the majority of it for grazing, said Jeff Mathews, Wildlands spokesman.

Part of the Agate Desert, about 44 acres of the land are home to fairy shrimp vernal pools, unique to Southern Oregon and Northern California. Another 43 acres are seasonal wetlands. The remainder is pasture land.

The benefits of grazing in protected areas has been a point of debate among biologists.

Mathews said cattle help stave off weeds and nonnative grasses that dry up the vernal pools.

"They're actually beneficial to the wetlands," Mathews said.

But that's not always the case, said Dominick DellaSala, executive director of the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science & Policy, which has studied the effects of cattle grazing on the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

"The cattle can eat invasive species, but the other example is the star thistle, which is spreading into the region," DellaSala said. "The cattle avoid them because they're not palatable. What happens is they eat the native plants instead, and the star thistle gets the advantage."

The cattle can also trample sensitive species and threaten water quality, he said.

The amount of time cattle spend on a piece of property may be reduced to protect the fairy shrimp from disruption, Mathews said.

"We are all for wise use of land," Mathews said. "We can conserve species and still work with the agriculture community through smart grazing."

Wetlands restoration will involve creating some land depressions to retain water for sustenance of the vernal pools and their fairy shrimp inhabitants during the winter, Mathews said. The pools naturally dry up in the summer and fall, so the company plans to stop irrigation to its property.

However, the Eagle Point Irrigation District ditches that bisect the land will continue to deliver water to neighbors, Mathews said.

Eagle Point resident Leo Rademacher, whose property is bounded by the proposed land bank, said he's concerned that an acre of his 10-acre property won't receive water as a result of halting irrigation on the Wildlands property.

It's impossible to water part of his land without spilling water on part of the Wildlands property, Rademacher said.

He's also concerned that the Wildlands property will turn brown from lack of water and become an eyesore, he said.

"We won't have those beautiful green fields to look at anymore," he said. "It's going to ruin our property values."

Mary Gardner, another neighbor of the Wildlands property, said she's also worried that ending irrigation on the proposed land bank could impact the amount of water that flows onto her vineyard.

But she said she's excited about the prospect that the Wildlands property will remain undeveloped and hopefully, provide a home for more fairy shrimp.

"We are happy that the wetlands will be our neighbor and people for years to come will be able to experience the Agate Desert because homes are going up all around it," Gardner said.

Wildlands owns 30,000 acres of wetland mitigation banks in California, Oregon, Washington and Virginia.

All of the wetland banks are protected by conservation easements, which cannot be developed.

On the Web: www.wildlandsinc.com.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459.