M.S. in Ecology


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Jessica Young, Ph.D.


Headshot of Jessica Young indoors
Headshot of Jessica Young indoors

Jessica Young, Ph.D.

“I cannot think of a better place in the world to contribute to the field of applied ecology.  Western students engage in meaningful research that improves our understanding of critically important issues in conservation biology and wildlife management.”

Jessica Young, Ph.D., works with conservation biology and reducing human-wildlife conflict with students in both the Master in Environmental Management and Master in Science in Ecology programs.  Her current publications include:

“Characterizing range-wide divergence in an alpine-endemic bird: a comparison of genetic and genomic approaches” (2018)

Animal Behavior: In “Research and Management Techniques for Wildlife and Habitat” Ed. Nova Silvey 8th ed. The Wildlife Society, Bethesda MD. In press.

Jonathan Coop, Ph.D.


Jonathan Coop smiles at the camera
Jonathan Coop smiles at the camera

Jonathan Coop, Ph.D.

“We can produce high-quality research and publish papers in scientific journals with our students. We’re out on the cutting edge of our field learning the things we don’t know yet."

Jonathan Coop, Ph.D., is a forest ecologist who studies how natural systems are affected by land use, fire suppression and climate change. Coop works with land managers to understand effects of fire, climate and insects on forests, and develop and test intervention strategies to try to maintain forests, or to make forests more resilient in a time of certain change.

“I think there are reasons to be deeply pessimistic,” he said. “Looking at the state of the natural environment and our effects on it and how effectively we are addressing that or not—getting really depressed and pessimistic is a very rational response. But there is evidence that society can change in response to changing values and information. It just requires getting to a certain threshold or critical mass.”

Raised in Los Alamos, N.M., Coop vividly remembers the 1977 La Mesa Fire burning in nearby Bandelier National Monument. In the decades to follow, the 1996 Dome Fire and 2000 Cerro Grande Fire sparked Coop’s interest to conduct his dissertation research in his hometown. More recent blazes such as the 2011 Las Conchas Fire have only furthered Coop’s interest in the area.

“The Jemez Mountains have been a formative landscape for me. I have a vivid memory of being in my backyard and seeing this plume of smoke and little pieces of ash falling on my town,” he said. “I’m seeing the effects of these unintentional human influences on the natural environment … and they are super gnarly.”

Now a professor 250 miles up the road from his hometown, Coop has found a home in the heart of the Rockies since his arrival 10 years ago. He’s a father, mountain biker, skier, rafter, percussionist, hunter and sauerkraut-fermenter—and still finds time to work on “science projects” in his free time. In the classroom and field, Coop puts particular attention on involving his students in real research.

“It’s never like, ‘Oh, you’re the student and I’m the professor,’” he said. “We can produce high-quality research and publish papers in scientific journals with our students. We’re out on the cutting edge of our field learning the things we don’t know yet. I’m really stoked about it.”

Coop’s interest in involving his students in research runs deeper than producing papers. Sure, it’s a way to pique their interest and is a surefire resume-bolster for students, but the interest they take thereafter is the torch that will carry ecological research and action into future generations.

“My students have taught me why I should be hopeful about the future of the world,” he said. “My biggest accomplishments are when I’m able to get them excited about what I’m excited about. And I don’t want to take too much credit for that because I think it’s already all in there, but I’m stoked when I can give students the context and opportunities for that passion to come through.”

Faculty & Staff


Kevin Alexander, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
Phone: 970.943.3405
Office Location: Taylor Hall 322
Ian Billick, Ph.D. headshot
Adjunct Faculty, Executive Director, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
Office Location:
Robin A. Bingham, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology
Phone: 970.943.3355
Office Location: Hurst Hall 222
Kevin Blecha, M.S. headshot
Adjunct Faculty; Terrestrial Wildlife Biologist, Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Office Location:
Ian Breckheimer, Ph.D. headshot
Adjunct Faculty; Research Scientist in Spatial Ecology and Data Synthesis, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
Office Location:
Jonathan Coop, Ph.D. headshot
Associate Professor
Phone: 970.943.2565
Office Location: Kelley Hall 105
Brian Dalton, Ph.D. headshot
Lecturer in Biology
Phone: 970.943.2287
Office Location: Hurst Hall 132
Jennie DeMarco, Ph.D. headshot
Lecturer in Environment & Sustainability
Phone: 970.943.2013
Office Location: Kelley Hall 144
Derek  D. Houston, Ph.D. headshot
Thornton Chair in Biology
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143B
Russel Japuntich, M.S. headshot
Adjunct Faculty; Southwest District Fisheries Biologist, Bureau of Land Management
Office Location: Remote
Patrick Magee, Ph.D. headshot
Assistant Professor of Wildlife & Conservation Biology
Phone: 970.943.7121
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143A
Jennie  Reithel, Ph.D. headshot
Adjunct Faculty; Science Director, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
Office Location:
Heidi  Steltzer, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology and Environment and Sustainability
Office Location:
Jessica Young, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Environment & Sustainability, Master in Environmental Management and Master of Science in Ecology
Phone: 970.765.8488
Office Location: Kelley Hall 143


For required courses and degree plans, visit the official University Catalog. Below is a general overview of courses at Western Colorado University related to this area of study.

 BIOL 606 - Ecological Research Methods (3 cred.)

A field- and lab-based course that builds on the capacity for students to conceptualize and complete ecological research projects. Students identify ecological questions and develop research to address them. Scientific communication to varied stakeholders is emphasized throughout. Prerequisite: admission to the MEM or MS programs.

 BIOL 613 - Advanced Ecological Analysis (3 cred.)

Students gain knowledge and experience in advanced statistical analysis and simulation modeling using ecological data. Specific topics include linear and generalized linear models, mixed-effects models, general additive models, multivariate analysis, spatial analysis, and simulation models. Emphasis is placed on working with data, writing and commenting scripts, and use of a wide range of internet resources for the R language and environment. Prerequisites: admission to the MEM or MS programs.

 BIOL 620 - Ornithology (4 cred.)

A graduate-level survey of bird evolution, ecology, and conservation. This course has a strong field component providing frequent opportunities to identify, observe, and conduct research on birds in their native environments. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 622 - Mammalogy (4 cred.)

An advanced overview of the current science of mammal taxonomy, evolution, ecology and conservation. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 627 - Field Entomology (4 cred.)

A detailed examination of the most diverse and abundant form of animal life on Earth through field and laboratory research. The course emphasizes field study, collection and preservation, identification, ecology, and natural history. Students develop familiarity with current scientific literature and complete a written research paper following peer-reviewed journal formatting. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 630 - Wildlife Ecology and Management (4 cred.)

Principles of ecology are applied to population and habitat management towards wildlife conservation. Tools used by wildlife biologists to restore endangered species, harvest sustainable populations, reduce overpopulated species, and to monitor and study populations are emphasized. Habitat management approaches are examined, along with human dimensions in wildlife conservation. Students will conduct field study to investigate populations and habitat issues, and develop best management practices for wildlife in the Gunnison Basin. Prerequisite: Admission to MS or MEM program. Co-requisite: BIOL 631.

 BIOL 631 - Wildlife Techniques Workshop (1 cred.)

A one-week intensive field course focuses on wildlife conservation issues and wildlife management techniques such as trapping and marking wildlife, radio telemetry, population monitoring, GPS and GIS, and wildlife conflict resolution. The course includes a trip outside the basin; a field trip course fee is required.  This course meets the week prior to the start of the fall semester. Prerequisite: Admission to MS or MEM program, instructor permission. Co-requisite: BIOL 630.

 BIOL 640 - Conservation Biology (3 cred.)

Conservation Biology is an applied science that addresses the reduction in biological diversity of the planet and suggests solutions to prevent further reduction. Conservation biology serves as an integrating link in biology drawing from scientific disciplines such as population genetics, ecology, evolutionary biology, botany, zoology, molecular biology, biochemistry and wildlife management. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 652 - Botany (4 cred.)

Using field and laboratory experiences this graduate level course explores the diversity within the plant kingdom using a comparative approach to examine evolutionary trends and relationships. Students are introduced to the structure and function of plants through an investigation of plant cells, tissues, organs, and basic physiological processes. Economic importance, human uses, and significance of plants to society are emphasized. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 653 - Rocky Mountain Flora (3 cred.)

A graduate level field and laboratory course focusing on identification of flowering plants common to the Western Slope of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  This course covers methods of plant collection and preservation, field identification, natural history, and ecology as well as local plants of particular human interest, including those that are medically important, edible, or which are poisonous. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM programs.

 BIOL 662 - Evolution (3 cred.)

This graduate level course provides a comprehensive overview of evolutionary processes, mechanisms, and analytical techniques. Topics include population genetics, conservation genetics, phylogenetic analysis, adaptation, behavioral evolution, sexual selection, and speciation. Evolutionary perspectives in human health and medicine, conservation biology, agriculture, natural resource management, biotechnology, global change, and emerging diseases are considered. Prerequisite: acceptance to MEM or MS program.

 BIOL 667 - Fisheries Biology and Management (3 cred.)

Graduate-level overview of the science underlying fisheries and their management.  Topics include the morphology, evolution, ecology, behavior and conservation of fishes, including experimental design, data analysis, quantitative population modelling, and scientific communication of results focusing primarily on freshwater fisheries and common fishes of Colorado. Marine fisheries are covered briefly. Prerequisite: acceptance to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 676 - Aquatic Ecology with laboratory (4 cred.)

Advanced field and laboratory study of physical, chemical, and biological parameters of lakes and streams in the functioning of freshwater ecosystems. Prerequisite: acceptance to MEM or MS program.

 BIOL 681 - Forest Ecology (4 cred.)

Ecology of forest species, communities, landscapes, and ecosystems, with a focus on the southern Rocky Mountains. Topics include tree physiology, species interactions, fire and disturbance, succession, forest types, climate, forest management, and restoration. Labs and field trips provide hands-on experience and practical skills in tree identification, forest mensuration, vegetation sampling, statistics and GIS. Students gain broad familiarity with the scientific literature, develop and conduct a sophisticated independent research project, and communicate findings. Prerequisite: admission to MS or MEM program.

 BIOL 690 - Ecology MS Proposal Development (3 cred.)

Students are required to develop a proposed research project in consultation with their academic advisor and present it in written and oral form to their thesis committee (composed of their advisor, another faculty member or PhD-level researcher, and an external project sponsor or reviewer). This course should be completed by the end of the spring semester of the first year to prepare students for summer research. Prerequisite: instructor permission.

 BIOL 692 - Independent Study (1-6 Credits cred.)

Independent research in ecology. Prerequisite: instructor permission.

 BIOL 695 - Ecology and Conservation Thesis Research (1-9 Credits cred.)

Students conduct research adhering to their thesis proposal, complete a written thesis, and defend their thesis. Students must also explicitly connect the research project with relevant and real-world efforts to achieve the broader impacts of ecology and conservation science in society. This is a repeatable course. Prerequisite: BIOL 690.

 BIOL 696 - Fisheries and Wildlife Thesis Research (1-9 Credits cred.)

Students conduct research adhering to their thesis proposal, complete a written thesis, and defend their thesis. Students must also explicitly connect the research project with relevant and real-world efforts to achieve the broader impacts of fisheries and wildlife science in society. This is a repeatable course. Prerequisite: BIOL 690.

Our Commitment to Co-Creating Your MS in Ecology Experience with You


Our MS in Ecology program is committed to providing a place-based education combined with rigorous research that addresses key ecological issues. We understand that the current COVID-19 situation has placed our students in unexpected circumstances that may require adjustment and adaption. Our priority is your safety and education, in that order. These are unprecedented times and we want you to know that we will support you in your educational journey, regardless of where you are located. Although, our program was originally designed to be completed in two years as a residential student, we are providing distance options for courses and research as well as an opportunity to complete the program in three years. Our faculty are uniquely skilled at delivering engaging, project-based courses and research needs throughout the world. We do so through offering unparalleled residential education and research experiences in the Rocky Mountains for those who can reside in Gunnison and the flexibility to take courses and develop research projects remotely for those who cannot. Our School of Environment and Sustainability focuses on resilience, adaptation and applying knowledge to enable our students to be change agents. For us, resilience begins with you, and while we understand that there are many things that are uncertain, our commitment to support your education is not one of them.


Our program engages a new kind of scientist: one whose ability to perform research with immediate relevance for solving problems is matched only by their skills in collaborating with affected communities. This scientist is also expected to incorporate citizens and citizen science into effective research, producing accessible and accurate results for utilization by both policy-makers and the public.

The Master of Science in Ecology program offers two tracks:  Ecology & Conservation and Fisheries & Wildlife Management. 

Students work closely with an advisor, conservation practitioners and natural resource managers to develop and complete an original research project. 

Program Features

Our two-year, residential program provides graduate students with many unique resources and opportunities, including:

  • The bioclimatic diversity of the southern Rocky Mountains.
  • Abundant access to public lands—including 80 percent of the land surrounding Western's campus.
  • Access to a broad network of managers of diverse natural resources (e.g., forests, water, fire, land, fisheries and wildlife).
  • Non-traditional research collaborators (e.g., ranchers, private land trusts and county/city planners).
  • Opportunities to address critical information gaps at the local, regional and global levels, across a range of ecological systems vulnerable to climate change.
  • Collaboration with researchers around the world and at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

  • Exposure to new avenues for communicating science, through relationships with New Media producers, on-site publications (e.g., High Country News) and interaction with Western's film studies program.
  • Access to 334 acres containing riparian, sage brush and grassland habitats, via collaboration with program partner the Coldharbour Institute (a nonprofit conservation organization).
  • Close collaboration with alumni, graduate students and over 15 faculty in Western’s Master in Environmental Management program. 
  • Local access to both Federal and State agency personnel and their local offices in the Gunnison Basin, including representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Forest Service.

Current ecological research by Western students and faculty.

Learn More About the M.S. in Ecology


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Reach out for more information about the program.

Photo of Matt Benoit in Taylor Hall
Program Analyst
Office Location: 
Taylor Hall 322

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