Environmental Biology & Ecology

When you select the Environmental Biology & Ecology emphasis at Western, you’ll study in the great classroom of the Gunnison Basin - and beyond. You’ll explore public and private lands, from sagebrush and lush riparian lowlands to deep forests and rocky alpine crags. Surrounded by six wilderness areas, the basin is truly a vast and wild classroom.

You’ll learn from passionate ecologists dedicated to hands-on, practical approaches. With connections to numerous natural resources agencies, the program provides frequent opportunities for resource professionals to interact with our students in classes, on field trips, and in training, through internships and paid, local jobs.

Western serves up a rich diversity of coursework for our small size. In addition, our Thornton Biology Undergraduate Research Program helps the most engaged students deepen their experience and gain skills, working closely with faculty mentors, while earning research stipends.

What Will You Learn? What Skills Will You Acquire?

The Ecology Emphasis helps you build knowledge and skills, starting in your freshman introductory courses. From that foundation, you add more sophisticated and applied skills as you move through the program.

You’ll learn in a field-based ecology lab that focuses on scientific methods, from experimental design to communication and numerous field techniques. You will gain the technical background and skills needed to communicate with scientists and resource managers.

You’ll learn field techniques, such as vegetation monitoring, stream assessment, radio telemetry, GIS, mapping and compass work, animal and plant identification by sight and sound, and even more diverse approaches to measuring populations, communities and ecosystems.

Beyond the Classroom

Research, service learning, adventure education, applied experiential field trips, connections with professional biologists, and fun social events help comprise the rich culture of our co-curricular program.

Western's Biology students participate in two primary clubs: the Tri Beta Biology Club and the Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society. They hold biweekly meetings throughout the year and organize field trips, fundraising events, and social/educational events.

Students work with the local community through a variety of service projects. They also build connections with local offices of natural resource agencies, which offer opportunities for service and field experience, such as trapping bighorn sheep, assisting with the annual kokanee salmon spawn, electroshocking and sampling fish, and volunteering at the Gunnison Sage Grouse Watchable Wildlife site.

Our budding biologists also work with agency professionals in workshops on applying for federal jobs and writing resumes, obtaining a hunter safety cards, learning to fly fish, learning basic avian taxidermy and more.

Next Steps

If you're interested in Western's Environmental Biology & Ecology Program, we invite you to take the next steps towards becoming a part of the Mountaineer family.

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  5. Find scholarships, grants, or financial aid that match your interests and situation.


FOR REQUIRED COURSES AND DEGREE PLANS, VISIT THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY CATALOG. This is a list of courses offered by Western State Colorado University. To ensure the courses you need are offered during the current semester, please visit the current university catalog at http://www.western.edu/catalog. To determined the courses required for your major, check the "Majors and Minors" tab for your area of study.

 BIOL 301 - GENERAL ECOLOGY (3 credits)

An introduction to basic ecological principles and their relationships to natural systems. Human impact on the natural systems is assessed. Prerequisites: BIOL 150 and BIOL 151. Prerequisite or corequisite: COM 202.


An experimental approach in both field and Laboratory to explore fundamental ecological principles. Students gather and analyze data to address ecological hypotheses, learn practical ecological skills (performing field techniques, using statistical and graphical tools, and interpreting ecological software), and develop oral and written communication skills. Prerequisites: BIOL 150, BIOL 151, and CHEM 113. Prerequisite or corequisite: BIOL 301.


An introduction to the study of bird evolution, ecology, and conservation. This course has a strong field component providing frequent opportunities to observe birds in their native environments. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission


An introduction to the study of mammal taxonomy, evolution, ecology and conservation. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.


An introduction to the world of the most diverse and abundant form of animal life on Earth through an experiential, field, and Laboratory class. The course emphasizes field study, collection and preservation, identification, ecology, and natural history. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.


Using field and Laboratory experiences this 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. Prerequisites: BIOL 150, BIOL 151, and ENG 102; or instructor permission.

 BIOL 353 - ROCKY MOUNTAIN FLORA (3 credits)

A 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, and poisonous. Prerequisites: BIOL 150 and BIOL 151; or instructor permission.


This course provides a comprehensive overview of evolutionary processes and mechanisms within an applied framework. Evolutionary perspectives in human health and medicine, environmental and conservation biology, agriculture and natural resource management, and biotechnology are covered. Topics include organismic adaptation to changing environments and long-term responses to environmental perturbation, and insights into many issues of growing social importance such as climate change, land use change, and emerging diseases. Prerequisites: BIOL 312; or ENVS 350, ENVS 370, ENVS 390, and either BIOL 151 or both BIOL 130 and BIOL 135; or instructor permission.


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 discussed, along with human dimensions in wildlife conservation. A field component allows students to investigate wildlife populations and habitat issues in the Gunnison Basin. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.


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. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission. Co-requisite: BIOL 430


This course addresses the reduction in biological diversity of the planet and suggested solutions to prevent further reduction. Integrating themes are drawn from scientific disciplines such as population genetics, ecology, evolutionary biology, botany, zoology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and wildlife management. Prerequisites: BIOL 312; or ENVS 350, ENVS 370, ENVS 390, and either BIOL 151 or both BIOL 130 and BIOL 135; or instructor permission.


A survey of the three main ecoregions of Colorado including the Great Plains, the Southern Rocky Mountains, and the Colorado Plateau. Students travel throughout Colorado and explore the ecology and natural history of the ecosystems by hiking, backpacking, and river rafting. Content includes an evolutionary perspective on ecosystem features and the adaptations of species characterizing each system, as well as applied issues in natural resources management. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.


A study of physical, chemical, and biological parameters of lakes and streams in the functioning of freshwater eco-systems. Prerequisites: Biology Nucleus and SCI 202; or instructor permission.


An introduction to plant populations and communities, including their role within terrestrial ecosystems. Prerequisites: Biol 301; or instructor permission


Ecology of forest species, communities, landscapes, and ecosystems, with a focus on the Gunnison Basin. Topics include tree physiology, species interactions, fire and disturbance, succession, forest types, climate, forest management and restoration. Laboratories and field trips will provide hands-on experience and practical skills in tree identification, forest mensuration, vegetation sampling, statistics and GIS. Students will develop and conduct independent/group research projects. Prerequisites: BIOL 301, MATH 213

 BIOL 495 - SENIOR SEMINAR (1 credits)

An examination of biological sub disciplines through an investigation of the primary literature. The professional practices, procedures, and standards of the sub discipline are discussed. This course may be repeated for credit and must be taken twice to fulfill the Capstone Course requirement. Graded Satisfactory/ Unsatisfactory only. Prerequisites: Biology Nucleus and MATH 213.

 BIOL 496 - SENIOR THESIS ( 2-4 credits)

An application of the research-based practices for instruction in math. Focus is placed on the foundations for assessing and teaching math by addressing basic skills, critical thinking skills, conceptual understanding, real life applications, and diverse learner needs. Students implement and review specific assessment practices, teaching structures, intervention strategies, and technology applications within a standards- based framework of instruction. Prerequisite: admission to the Education Department.

 BIOL 497 - SPECIAL TOPICS, BIOLOGY ( 1-6 credits)

thinking skills, conceptual understanding, real life applications, and diverse learner


An examination of the environmental sciences through readings of primary literature, secondary literature and discussions of the environmental science discipline. The professional practices, procedures and standards of environmental science are discussed. Students will develop a professional portfolio of an environmental science project. Graded Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory only. Prerequisites: Instructor approval. This course is intended for students at the end of their Environmental Science minor

Faculty & Staff


Professor of Biology
B.A., University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D., University of North Texas
Phone: (970) 943-3405
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143C
Professor of Biology
B.A., University of Vermont; M.A., Ph.D., University of Colorado.
Phone: (970) 943-3355
Office Location: Hurst Hall 222
Assistant Professor in Biology and Environment & Sustainability
B.A., Biology, University of California–Santa Cruz, 1995, Ph.D., Botany, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2005
Phone: (970) 943-2565
Office Location: Kelly Hall 105
Professor of Biology
B.S., St. Joseph’s University; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University.
Phone: (970) 943-2094
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238B
Assistant Professor of Biology
B.A., University of Colorado; B.A., University of Colorado; Ph.D., University of Oregon
Phone: (970) 943-2552
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238C
Biology Laboratory Coordinator
B.A., Western State Colorado Universtiy; M.S., San Francisco State University.
Phone: (970) 943-2437
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143B
Thornton Chair in Biology
B.S, Colorado State University. M.S., University of Missouri; Ph.D., University of Missouri.
Phone: (970) 943-7121
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143A
Associate Professor of Biology
B.S., Allegheny College; Ph.D., Dartmouth College.
Phone: (970) 943-3181
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238A
Lecturer in Environment & Sustainability, and Biology
B.S., Winona State University, M.S., University of Minnesota Duluth, Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Phone: 970.943.2024
Office Location: Kelly Hall 114
Lecturer in Biology
B.A., University of Boulder , M.A., University of Denver and Health Sciences, Ph.D., University of Denver and Health Sciences
Phone: (970) 943-2145
Office Location: Hurst Hall 218
Emeritus Professor of Biology
B.S., University of California-Davis; Ph.D., University of Idaho.
Phone: 970.943.2063
Office Location: