More funding is now available for California farmers and ranchers to voluntarily restore and enhance wetlands.

The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California is receiving an additional $10 million for the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) this year.

"Since California has lost over 90 percent of its historic wetland habitat, this increase in funding offers even more opportunities for wetlands conservation," said Ed Burton, NRCS state conservationist in California.

"Wetlands improve water quality, prevent flooding and soil erosion, recharge groundwater and provide critical wildlife habitat."

The $10 million is in addition to the $12.5 million already received this year.

WRP, reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill, is a voluntary program that provides agricultural producers and other private landowners compensation for land placed in conservation easements, and cost-share funding for restoring and enhancing wetlands.

Applications for the next ranking cycle are due at local USDA Service Centers by July 2, 2010. NRCS will accept WRP applications throughout the year.

"WRP can provide agricultural producers an alternative to the difficulties of farming wet, marginal land," Burton said. "Plus, many landowners enjoy the recreation opportunities their wetlands offer them."

WRP includes permanent easements that pay 100 percent of the easement value and restoration costs, and 30-year easements that pay up to 75 percent of the easement value and restoration costs.

WRP also offers 10-year restoration agreements to restore wetlands without placing an easement on enrolled acres; NRCS pays up to 75 percent of the restoration costs. With all enrollment options, landowners maintain title to the land and control access.

More than 250 private landowners in California have enrolled more than 100,000 acres of land into WRP, accounting for one acre in every four of California's functioning wetlands and hosting over 180 species of birds.

Nationwide, about 2.2 million acres are enrolled in WRP, with this latest round of funding expected to add another 75,000 acres.

For more information, visit www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp.html.