Environmental Biology & Ecology

Get Involved

  • Thornton Biology Research Program: Students collaborate with faculty (and can receive funding) on original research. 
  • Research Assistantships: Many professors conduct externally-funded research and often employ students. 
  • Tri Beta and the Wildlife Society: Student-run clubs that provide professional development, training, networking, internships and field experiences. 
  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory: Western biologists and students collaborate with the world-renowned research station seven miles north of Crested Butte.


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, New Mexico, 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.”


Scholarships associated with academic programs usually have a specific scholarship application form that can easily be obtained by contacting that academic program's office or visiting that academic program's web page. If you have any questions, please contact the Financial Aid office at 970.943.3085 or 800.876.5309.

 Joseph A. Kastellic Scholarship

Joseph A. Kastellic Scholarship is Available to:

 Full-time students who are majoring in Environment & Sustainability, Environmental Biology or a related field. Must be junior level (60 credits) or above and have a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA. Preference given to students with financial need who are residents of the Western Slope of Colorado and have expressed interest in a career in park operations/park management or a career in the earth sciences.

Environmental Studies Scholarship Provided by:

Barbara Kastellic and gifts from others to honor Joseph, who was the first Superintendent of the Black Canyon National Monument from 1975-1984.


Award depends on funds available.


Complete and submit The Joseph A. Kastellic Scholarship application which is available in the Office of Financial Aid. A recommendation and a one-page essay will be needed to complete the application.

Learn more about Western's Environment & Sustainability program. 

Learn more about Western's Biology program. 

Faculty & Staff


Kevin Alexander, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology; Chair, Department of Natural and Environmental Sciences
B.A., The University of Texas at Austin, Biology, 1991, Ph.D., University of North Texas, Biology, 1997
Phone: 970.943.3405
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143C
Robin A. Bingham headshot
Professor of Biology
B.A., University of Vermont, M.A., University of Colorado, Ph.D., University of Colorado
Phone: 970.943.3355
Office Location: Hurst Hall 222
Brian Dalton, Ph.D. headshot
Lecturer in Biology
B.A., Occidental College, Ph.D., University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Phone: 970.943.2287
Office Location: Hurst Hall 132
Peter H. Gauss headshot
Professor of Biology
B.S., St. Joseph’s University , Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
Phone: 970.943.2094
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238B
Shan Hays, Ph.D. headshot
Associate Professor of Biology
B.A., University of Colorado Boulder, Biochemistry, B.A., University of Colorado Boulder, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Ph.D., University of Oregon, Biology
Phone: 970.943.2552
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238C
Amy Honan headshot
Biology Laboratory Coordinator
B.A., Western Colorado University, M.S., San Francisco State University, Ph.D. candidate , University of Washington, Seattle
Phone: 970.943.2437
Office Location: Hurst Hall 128A
Derek  D. Houston, Ph.D. headshot
Thornton Chair in Biology, Lecturer in Biology
B.S., Brigham Young University, M.S., Brigham Young University, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Phone: 970.943.2269
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143B
Patrick Magee headshot
Assistant Professor of Biology
B.S., Colorado State University, Wildlife Biology, M.S., University of Missouri, Wildlife Ecology, Ph.D., University of Missouri, Wildlife Ecology
Phone: 970.943.7121
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143A
Cassandra L. Osborne, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology
B.S., Allegheny College, Ph.D., Dartmouth College
Phone: 970.943.3181
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238A
John Sowell, Ph.D. headshot
Emeritus Professor of Biology
B.S., University of California-Davis, Ph.D., University of Idaho
Phone: 970.943.2063
Office Location:


FOR REQUIRED COURSES AND DEGREE PLANS, VISIT THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY CATALOG. This is a sample of courses offered by Western Colorado University. To ensure the courses you need are offered during the current semester, please visit the university course search.

 BIOL 302 - Ecology Laboratory and Recitation (2 credits)

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. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: BIOL 150, BIOL 151, and CHEM 113. Prerequisite or corequisite: BIOL 301.

 BIOL 320 - Ornithology (with laboratory and recitation) (4 credits)

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. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission

 BIOL 322 - Mammalogy (with laboratory and recitation) (4 credits)

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

 BIOL 327 - Field Entomology (with laboratory) (4 credits)

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. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.

 BIOL 352 - Botany (with laboratory) (4 credits)

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. Additional course fee applies. 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 commonto 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. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: BIOL 150 and BIOL 151; or instructor permission.

 BIOL 362 - Evolution (3 credits)

This 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. Prerequisites: BIOL 312; or ENVS 350, ENVS 370, ENVS 390, and either BIOL 151 or Both BIOL 130 and BIOL 135; or instructor permission.

 BIOL 430 - Wildlife Ecology and Management (with laboratory) ( credits)

Principles of ecology are applied to population and habitat management towardswildlife 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. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.

 BIOL 431 - Wildlife Techniques Workshop (1 credits)

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

 BIOL 440 - Conservation Biology (3 credits)

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.

 BIOL 444 - Colorado Ecoregions (3 credits)

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. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.

 BIOL 467 - Fisheries Biology (3 credits)

An introduction to the science underlying fisheries and their management. Topics will include the morphology, evolution, ecology, behavior and conservation of fishes, including experimental design, data analysis and communication of results focusing primarily on freshwater fisheries and common fishes of Colorado. Marine fisheries will be covered briefly. Prerequisites: BIOL 301 or instructor permission.

 BIOL 476 - Aquatic Ecology (with laboratory) (4 credits)

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

 BIOL 481 - Forest Ecology (with laboratory) (4 credits)

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. Labs 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. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisites: BIOL 301, MATH 213

 BIOL 496 - Senior Thesis ( credits)

An advanced research experience resulting in a Senior Thesis, supervised by a thesis committee of three faculty members including at least one biologist. A proposal of the project must be approved by the thesis committee prior to project initiation. In addition to completing the written thesis, students must present the results of their work in a departmental seminar. This course satisfies the capstone course requirement. Prerequisites: Biology Nucleus; and MATH 151 or MATH 213.

 CHEM 111 - General Chemistry I (3 credits)

An introductory course designed for science majors focusing on principles and applications of chemistry. Topics covered in this course are stoichiometry, bonding models, intermolecular forces, and periodic trends. Prerequisite or corequisite: MATH 140 or Accuplacer college-level mathematics test score of 85 or above, ACT math score of 24 or above, or instructor permission.

 CHEM 112 - General Chemistry Laboratory I (1 credits)

An introduction to basic laboratory techniques of inorganic chemistry correlating with CHEM 111. Experiments emphasize techniques, instrumentation, and solution chemistry. Laboratory notebookkeeping and the safe handling and disposal of laboratory chemicals are also stressed. Additional course fee applies. Corequisite: CHEM 111.

 CHEM 113 - General Chemistry II (3 credits)

A continuation of CHEM 111. Topics covered are thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, electrochemistry, and nuclear chemistry. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: CHEM 111 with a minimum grade of C-.

 CHEM 114 - General Chemistry Laboratory II (1 credits)

A continuation of CHEM 112. An introduction to basic laboratory techniques of inorganic chemistry correlating with CHEM 113. Experiments emphasize techniques, instrumentation, and solution chemistry. Laboratory notebookkeeping and the safe handling and disposal of laboratory chemicals are also stressed. Prerequisite: CHEM 112. Corequisite: CHEM 113.

 CHEM 231 - Introduction to Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (3 credits)

A descriptive survey course which introduces the essential topics and applications of organic chemistry and biochemistry. The course is designed for non-majors who need the second semester of a one-year chemistry core that includes general, organic, and biochemistry.This course may not be counted for credit toward the Chemistry Major or Minor. Prerequisite: CHEM 101 or CHEM 113.

 CHEM 234 - Introductory Organic and Biochemistry Laboratory (1 credits)

An introductory laboratory to accompany CHEM 231. Experiments focus on reactions of organic functional groups, organic synthesis, and the chemistry of biological molecules.This course may not be counted for credit toward the Chemistry Major or Minor. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite or corequisite: CHEM 231.

 GEOL 101 - Physical Geology (3 credits)

An introductory class that emphasizes the environmental aspects of geology. The course covers the basic principles of physical geology, such as minerals, rocks, plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, and origin of landscapes by mass wasting, rivers, glaciers, ground water, and nearshore processes. Throughout this course, focus is on the effect of geology on human society through the study of geologic hazards, energy resources, and mineral resources.

 GEOL 105 - Physical Geology Laboratory (1 credits)

An introduction to identification of minerals and rocks and a discussion of their genesis followed by a study of landscapes formed by mass wasting, rivers, glaciers, ground water, and nearshore processes. Many of these principles are observed on local field trips. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite or corequisite: GEOL 101.

 MATH 213 - Probability and Statistics (3 credits)

A course in the use of statistical techniques to draw knowledge from data. Topics include exploratory data analysis, descriptive statistics, t-procedures, ANOVA, chi squared procedures, regression, and non-parametric tests. Statistical software is used extensively to analyze real data sets. Prerequisite: MATH 141 with a minimum grade of C-, or Accuplacer university-level mathematics test score of 85 or above; or instructor permission. GT-MA1

 MATH 495 - Senior Seminar (3 credits)

A small group of graduating seniors pursue a practical project necessitating professional levels of problem solving, research, written and oral prowess, critical thinking, and familiarity with core curriculum. Final projects are of high quality, so they can be used by professionals and decision-makers in the field. Prerequisites: senior standing. Corequisite 490.

 PHYS 140 - Introductory Physics (with laboratory) (4 credits)

A semi-quantitative introduction to the fundamental concepts of physical science, particularly the laws of physics as they relate to the structure of matter. Laboratory experiences play an important role in the investigations. This course may not be taken for credit toward the Physics Minor. Additional course fee applies. Prerequisite: ACT math score of 19 or above; SAT math score of 500 or above; MATH 099; Accuplacer Elementary Algebra test score of 85 or above.

Bachelor of Science
Natural & Environmental Sciences

With Western's Environmental Biology & Ecology emphasis, you’ll study in and beyond the natural classroom of the Gunnison Basin. Surrounded by six wilderness areas, the basin is truly a vast and wild learning environment.


Environmental Biology & Ecology students have the opportunity to explore numerous public and private lands from the sagebrush and lush riparian "lowlands" to deep forests and rocky alpine crags. The land that surrounds campus, including six wilderness areas, is a vast and wild laboratory. On campus, students learn in an intimate and experiential classroom environment that promotes collaboration between students and faculty. 

The Program

The Environmental Biology & Ecology emphasis prepares students for an array of careers in environmental biology, including ecology, natural resources management, research and education. Starting their freshman year, students learn from biologists dedicated to hands-on, practical approaches to learning—all complemented by a liberal arts core and a strong basis in natural history.

As students advance to upper-division courses, they develop experimental design and science communication skills, and hone field techniques such as species identification, vegetation monitoring, stream assessment, radio telemetry, spatial analysis (GIS) and diverse approaches to measuring populations, communities and ecosystems. 

For students pursuing a graduate degree toward an environmental career, Western offers a 3+2 program where students complete a B.S. in Biology and a Master in Environmental Management (MEM) in just five years. Our MEM program boasts an 85 percent placement rate into environmental careers. 


Before Environmental Biology & Ecology students graduate, they have numerous networking opportunities with natural resources agencies, through internships, class work, field trips, temporary positions and volunteer opportunities. Due to our intimate educational experience, faculty are able to provide personal career advising with detailed references. Our graduates are often hired by local, state and national agencies including: 

  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • National Park Service
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Forest Service

Graduates also work with nongovernmental organizations, such as nonprofit environmental groups, Native American tribes, ecological consulting companies and for-profit consulting companies.

Learn More

Robin Bingham, Ph.D.