BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Spending on a government-sponsored initiative to help struggling sage grouse populations in the West is projected to exceed $750 million by 2018.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Thursday the money would conserve an estimated 8 million acres of sage grouse habitat. Federal officials are more than halfway to that goal since starting the Sage Grouse Initiative in 2010.

The chicken-sized birds are found in 11 Western states. They're being considered for federal protections after their numbers plummeted in recent decades.

About $425 million in government and private funds already have been spent on conservation easements and other measures to reverse the bird's decline.

The USDA will spend almost $200 million more over the next four years. Private contributors and other government agencies are expected to provide an additional $130 million.