The Clark’s Nutcracker Project

Protecting a centuries-old relationship between the Clark’s Nutcracker and the whitebark pine in Yellowstone National Park.

Project Overview

The Clark’s Nutcracker Project is a multiyear partnership between The Ricketts Conservation Foundation, the University of Colorado-Denver, and Yellowstone National Park to study Clark’s nutcrackers in Yellowstone National Park and arrest broader ecosystem problems related to this important little bird.

Clark’s nutcrackers and whitebark pine are dependent upon each other for their long-term survival. The pines produce large nutritious seeds that the nutcrackers extract and cache from the trees’ cones in the fall. Come spring, the birds use the stored seeds to raise their young. Not all seeds are retrieved, however, so the nutcrackers inadvertently disperse pine seeds much farther than they would unassisted, in some cases more than 15 miles.

The Problem

In the past several decades, white pine blister rust has devastated whitebark pine trees throughout the West. Combined with pine beetle epidemics, increased wild fires and climate change, the pines are facing an uncertain future. Because any long-term solution to restoring whitebark pines to the landscape requires healthy Clark’s Nutcracker populations, we need to know more about this species in order to protect it.

The Solution

The Ricketts Conservation Foundation has partnered with the University of Colorado-Denver and Yellowstone National Park to study Clark’s nutcrackers in Yellowstone National Park. Our goal is to understand what seed sources the birds utilize when the pines don’t produce a large crop and better understand how to protect this species while organizations such as the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation work to restore the whitebark pine.


Leading the Clark’s Nutcrackers project for the Ricketts Conservation Foundation and Yellowstone National Park is Diana Tomback, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Colorado Denver. A pioneering researcher, Dr. Tomback is collaborating with American Forests and the U.S. Forest Service to organize and assemble the National Whitebark Pine Restoration Plan (NWPRP) on behalf of the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, the major science advocacy organization for whitebark pine that she founded in 2001.

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