By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Oak trees dot the mixed terrain of valleys and rolling hills to the east of historic Copperopolis, on land where a large-scale housing development is proposed.
Two creeks run through the 3,251-acre site, creating parallel strips of wetlands fed by a network of seasonal streams.
The oaks are home to yellow-billed magpies, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, mourning doves, mule deer, coyotes and other animals. Among the wetlands' inhabitants are western pond turtles, aquatic garter snakes, great blue herons and bullfrogs.
But if Oak Canyon Ranch is approved as proposed with plans for 2,275 houses, two golf courses and a resort area with shops, restaurants, more houses and tourist accommodations most of the oaks and a sizable chunk of wetlands could be destroyed.
According to the project's environmental impact report, oak trees dot about 2,483 acres of the project site, and wetlands span about 69 acres.
If the project is approved, the EIR says, about 1,642 acres of oak woodland and 12.79 acres of wetland habitat could be affected.
"We're removing habitat," said Murphys resident Roger Mueller, who went to Thursday's Calaveras County Planning Commission meeting to comment about the project's EIR. "It's nesting sites and food for a huge number of animals."
The Oak Canyon Ranch site is south of Highway 4 around Little John Road.
Project co-developer Maury Froman said he and co-developer David Nairne have "gone to great extent to create additional open space and to look at the concerns that have been raised."
For example, developers have said they won't develop along Little John and Sawmill creeks, or along several streams that flow into the creeks. That is to preserve wetland habitats and allow wildlife passage through the project.
The EIR calls for developers to form a "wetlands plan" before their project is approved. However, the EIR doesn't elaborate on exactly what a wetlands plan is. Froman said he isn't sure yet, either, and he did not want to speculate.
"We will do what we're supposed to do at the appropriate time," he said.