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Federal effort would list Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan as threatened species

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing new protections for the Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan. If approved, the Endangered Species Act would list the birds as threatened.

White-tailed ptarmigans spend their entire lifecycle on alpine mountaintops, above the tree line of the Cascades. 

They’re the smallest bird in the grouse family. They have feathered talons that function like snowshoes and plumage that adapts to the season. In winter, they stay warm by burying themselves in dry, fluffy snow. In summer, they prefer wet areas where snowfields and glaciers have melted. And they show stress at temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Climate change threatens these birds. The warmer atmosphere reduces snowpack, pushing the tree line higher and shrinking their habitat.

The proposed listing aims to conserve and recover the species. Critics say it fails to identify or set aside critical habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will accept public comment at through Aug. 16.   

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to