Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has scheduled a Friday meeting with representatives from 10 western states to discuss development of a comprehensive strategy intended to protect sage grouse while maintaining a strong economy, a spokesman said Thursday.

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for Salazar in Washington, said the meeting will include Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. Renny MacKay, a Mead spokesman, said the governor and Salazar plan a press conference on the sage grouse issue on Friday.

Sage grouse, birds about the size of chickens, are found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado.

The federal government announced last year that sage grouse deserve protection under the federal Endangered Species Act but held off listing the bird immediately because other species were of more immediate concern. A final determination whether to list them is due by late 2015.

Western states and federal land management agencies are scrambling to avoid federal protections for the birds. They fear listing the birds would result in restrictions on energy development on the millions of acres of sage brush habitat.

Mead, in his recent budget recommendations to Wyoming lawmakers, is seeking $10 million over the next two years to free up federal and private matching funds to purchase conservation easements on private ranches in Wyoming in sage grouse areas.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, meanwhile, are asking for public suggestions as they try to figure out how to protect the sage grouse in the western states. The agencies announced a plan Thursday to hold meetings throughout the West to gather comments.

Copyright 2011 The AP.

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