Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 22, 2023


Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Lawsuit Seeks Final Endangered Species Act Protections for Mt. Rainier White-Tailed Ptarmigan

Biden Administration Moving Slowly to Protect Endangered Wildlife

TUCSON, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to finalize Endangered Species Act protections for the Mt. Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan, which is immediately threatened by climate-related snowpack changes in Washington’s Cascades.

The ptarmigan are winter-adapted birds in the grouse family. The Service proposed the birds for protection in June 2021, which triggered a one-year deadline for finalizing these safeguards. The Center first petitioned for their protection in 2010.

“These birds can survive the toughest winter weather Mt. Rainier can throw at them, but they won’t survive climate change without the lifesaving protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s program for protecting plants and animals is badly broken and the Biden administration is doing nothing to fix it. It shouldn’t take 13 years to protect such a clearly imperiled species.”

The Biden administration has consistently missed the Act’s deadlines, which were established to ensure imperiled plants and animals receive timely protections. Overall, the administration has protected just 11 species per year compared to 65 species a year under the Clinton administration and 36 species each year under the Obama administration.

The ptarmigan lives year-round above the tree line in the Cascades from southern British Columbia to Mt. Adams. In winter it relies on dry, fluffy snow to bury itself and stay warm, but climate change is resulting in more rain on snow events that create hard crusts unsuitable for the bird. In summer, the ptarmigan prefers wet areas created by melting snowfields and glaciers that are rapidly disappearing. It is poorly adapted to warm temperatures, showing stress above just 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Cascade alpine meadows used by breeding ptarmigans are expected to decline by 95% in the next 50 years under current climate-change projections.

“Our world is changing and changing fast,” said Greenwald. “We have to move fast to protect more of the natural world and dramatically reduce fossil fuels. Otherwise, the ptarmigan will be one of many special animals and plants in the Pacific Northwest that we’ll lose forever.”

In addition to the ptarmigan, today’s lawsuit includes 12 other species unduly waiting for protection: the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl, Peñasco least chipmunk, Humboldt marten, six Texas mussels (Texas fatmucket, Guadalupe fatmucket, Texas fawnsfoot, Texas pimpleback, Guadalupe orb and false spike), pyramid pigtoe mussel, tall western penstemon and four distinct populations of the foothill yellow-legged frog.

Photos of the ptarmigan are available for media use.

White-tailed Ptarmigan in Summer Plumage. Photo by Pete Plage/USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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