Five California watersheds were among 202 across the nation invited to participate in a historic new program designed to reward farmers for long-term stewardship. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman announced the selected watersheds and said that sign-ups for the 2005 Conservation Security Program would begin this winter.

CSP, part of the 2002 Farm Bill, was introduced last summer in 18 watersheds nationwide. In this first opportunity for farmers from each state to participate, about one eighth of the nation's eligible farmers will be given the chance to apply each year over an eight-year period.

“As an agency and as a nation we have helped farmers and ranchers fix conservation problems such as soil erosion and water conservation since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s,” said Chuck Bell, California state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service overseeing CSP. “This, however, represents a whole new direction in conservation and agricultural policy and programs.”