OAKLAND, Calif. – The sounds of birds may soon compete with the sounds of bets at a marsh in Oakland, Calif., where a landless tribe of Pomo Indians (search) plans to move ahead with construction of a casino and spa next to a wetlands home to a dozen species of birds.
Those species include the endangered California Clapper Rail (search). Environmentalists say they fear the casino will negatively impact the marsh avians.
"This is really a wonderful jewel that provides a rare opportunity for people to connect with nature, and having a casino as a next-door neighbor would greatly degrade that," said Elizabeth Murdchock of the Golden Gate Audobon Society (search).
Tribe members say they have great respect for nature — their tribal symbol features the red tail hawk. But, they argue, they need the casino to get some land of their own and finally become economically self-sufficient.
"This tribe's been struggling for well over 50 years to try to get land in trust for itself. We want to succeed not only for this generation, but for generations to come," said Daniel Beltran, chairman of the Lake Rancheria Koi Nation Tribe (search).
The tribe wants to build on the site of an existing airport parking lot. The proposed casino would provide more than 4,000 jobs and $11 million in local taxes each year, supporters say.
Opponents say that payoff is not worth it, and the impact of building and operating the facility would be devastating.
"Twenty-four-hour lighting can reduce the breeding success of certain bird species," Murdchock said. "This is not the right place for a casino given the precious wetland habitat that we have here."
Beltran said the site of the proposed casino already has lots of lighting now, and the casino would not resemble any of the flashier establishments found in places like Las Vegas.
"We can talk all day about what we think the impact would be, but let's wait and we'll see what the experts say," he said.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (search) must give final approval to the project, which is now undergoing an environmental impact review.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Claudia Cowan.