BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency plans to spend more than $200 million over the next three years on programs to protect greater sage grouse — regardless of whether the bird receives federal protections.

Vilsack told The Associated Press he wants to almost double protected habitat for the chicken-sized bird to 8 million acres across the West. A formal announcement was planned Thursday. It's part of a campaign by the Obama administration to demonstrate its commitment to staving off further declines in grouse populations.

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 its 11-state range. Republicans have seized on the issue as evidence of wildlife protection laws run amuck.