Published: Jul 30, 2010 12:20 AM EDT
Updated: Jul 29, 2010 7:26 PM EDT

MAMOU, La. - The federal government is paying farmers $20 million to flood their fields to help birds avoid oil-infested habitats.

The project is designed provide an alternative nesting site for tens of millions of ducks, geese and shorebirds who are migrating as far north as Alaska and Iceland

"Hopefully, we can help," said Craig Gautreaux, who has dedicated 762 acres about 90 miles inland from the Gulf to the project under a three-year, $132,441 contract that likely will cover his costs but provide little if any profit. "I want to keep the birds around."
    
Biologists fear the birds will arrive at Gulf barrier islands, shorelines, and marshes to find their nesting sites destroyed and their food supply gone. Government officials hope to have 150,000 acres of manmade wetlands ready by August 15th.
      
The amount farmers are paid will depend on how much land they devote, and the steps they take to make it suitable for birds.
      
Flooding will cost between $43 and $200 per acre, depending on factors such as water value in a particular area and the condition of the land, said Russell Castro, a biologist with the federal conservation service in Temple, Texas.

Grant Guillory is turning about 235 acres into wetlands. He is keeping the area submerged under six to 10 inches of water for longer than usual.

"Anyone who buys a farm and runs it themselves, I guess you don't do it to get rich," said Guillory, who raises crawfish and soybeans in southern Louisiana's Atchafalaya River watershed. "You get into it because you're somewhat of a steward to the environment. I care about these birds and I'm afraid the oil spill is going to devastate some of these species."