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Federal Government Plans More Sage Grouse Protection

The federal government plans to spend more than $200 million over the next three years on programs to protect greater sage grouse in Western states — regardless of whether the bird receives federal protections, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Vilsack said he wants to almost double protected habitat for the chicken-sized bird, to 8 million acres by 2018. He also promised more spending on conservation easements for private landowners, to limit residential development in sage grouse habitat and to restore wetlands used by the birds.

The bird's fate has become a potential political liability heading into the 2016 election. Federal protections could prompt limits on energy drilling, grazing and other activities across the grouse's 11-state range.

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Sage grouse were proposed for protections under the act in 2010, but they were not put in place because of other priorities.