DAVIS, Calif., Dec. 1, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is currently accepting applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP). ACEP offers two easement options, Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE). A total of $18.6 million is available for ACEP applicants throughout California. "These programs provide landowners opportunities to protect and enhance agricultural lands and restore wetlands ecosystems," said Carlos Suarez, NRCS state conservationist in California. "These easement opportunities provide a means to keep working land in production, preserve open space, and provide great benefit to our state's natural resources and wildlife." ALE funds are provided to eligible entities to cost-share the purchase of conservation easements that protect farming and ranching on privately owned cropland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forestland, pastureland, and grasslands of special environmental significance. Approved agricultural easements would prevent productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses and maximize protection of land devoted to food production. Landowners are encouraged to work with a local eligible entity to apply for the program, such as a land trust or non governmental organization with an established record of conserving farms and ranches. WRE compensates farmers, ranchers and other private landowners for land placed in wetland conservation easements, and shares the cost of restoring degraded wetlands. Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in a 30-year contract. WRE also includes a Grazing Reserve Rights option which allows participants with an approved wetland and grazing management plan to enroll grazed land. The grazing rights option is available in three geographic areas: coastal pastures and wetlands of the north coast, California vernal pools, and intermountain wetlands of eastern California. Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS field office to apply for the program. ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS. However, applications for current funding must be submitted on or before January 20, 2017. As with all NRCS easements, the landowner retains the title to the land, and the right to control access and recreational use. The land remains on the tax rolls. Learn more about ACEP by visiting www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs. Since its inception in 1935, NRCS has worked in partnership with private landowners and a variety of local, state and federal conservation partners to deliver conservation based on specific, local needs.