Wildlife and Conservation Biology


When you select the Wildlife Biology emphasis at Western, you’ll study in the great classroom of the Gunnison Basin and beyond. You’ll have the opportunity to explore numerous public and private lands from the sagebrush and lush riparian “lowlands” to the deep forests and rocky alpine crags. Surrounded by six wilderness areas the learning environment is truly a vast and wild classroom.

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

Western offers a rich diversity of coursework for our small size. In addition, our Thornton Biology Undergraduate Research Program (BURP) provides opportunity for the most engaged students to deepen their experience and gain skills working closely with a faculty mentor, all while earning a research stipend.

What Will You Learn? What Skills Will You Acquire?

The Ecology Emphasis provides a thoughtful development of skills for students starting in your freshman introductory courses and adding more sophistication and applied skills as you move through the program.

You’ll experience a field-based ecology lab that focuses on providing you the basic skills of science including experimental design, communication, and numerous field techniques. You will do science repeatedly in the program as you gain a strong background and skills 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 numerous 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 are all part of the rich culture of our co-curricular program.

Students have two primary clubs in which they actively participate, including the Tri Beta Biology Club and the Student Chapter of the Wildlife Society. They hold weekly meetings throughout the year and organize numerous field trips, fund raising events, and social/educational events.

Students interface with the local community through a variety of service projects. They are also connected to the local natural resource agencies that offer opportunities for service and field experience, including trapping bighorn sheep, assisting with the annual kokanee salmon spawn, electroshocking fish and volunteering at the local Gunnison Sage-grouse Watchable Wildlife site.

With local agency employees our club leaders organize workshops on applying for federal jobs and writing resumes, obtaining a hunter’s safety card, learning to fly fish, learning basic avian taxidermy and many others.

Students also travel to a variety of conferences including the Wildlife Society’s annual student conclave where students from all over the western U.S. gather for social and educational events and competitions. Students deepen their connections to the wildlife profession by becoming members of the Wildlife Society and traveling to the Colorado Chapter meeting every winter. Other conferences to which our students have traveled and presented their own research include the Tri Beta regional conference, the National Conference for Undergraduate Research and the Guild of Rocky Mountain Ecologists and Evolutionary Biologists.

After Graduation

Our students have been highly successful in obtaining jobs at the local and state level with agencies such as the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the USDA Forest Service.

Employers often remark on the quality of our students and their practical experiences and insights. Students graduating from our program have also been successful in non-governmental field areas such as non-profit environmental groups and for-profit consulting companies. We have a rich tradition of sending students to graduate programs all over the U.S. Many students are highly qualified for a variety of seasonal positions working for researchers and natural resources management agencies.

Next Steps

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

Share your interest with friends and family: 
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  2. Get more information about the program.
  3. Schedule a campus visit so you can meet professors, see the beautiful Gunnison Valley, and find out if Western is the perfect school for you.
  4. Start the online application process - apply online now.
  5. Find scholarships, grants, or financial aid that match your interests and situation.

Faculty & Staff


Kevin Alexander
Professor of Biology; Chair, Department of Natural and Environmental Sciences
B.A., University of Texas at Austin, Ph.D., University of North Texas
Phone: (970) 943-3405
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143C
Robin A. Bingham
Professor of Biology
B.A., University of Vermont; M.A., Ph.D., University of Colorado.
Phone: (970) 943-3355
Office Location: Hurst Hall 222
Peter H. Gauss
Professor of Biology
B.S., St. Joseph’s University; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University.
Phone: (970) 943-2094
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238B
Dr. Shan Hays
Associate 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, Ph.D. candidate - University of Washington, Seattle. Current
Phone: (970) 943-2437
Office Location: Hurst Hall 128A
Derek Houston
Thornton Chair in Biology, Lecturer in Biology
B.S. and M.S., Brigham Young University, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Phone: (970) 943-2269
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143B
Patrick Magee
Assistant Professor of 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
Cassandra L. Osborne
Professor of Biology
B.S., Allegheny College; Ph.D., Dartmouth College.
Phone: (970) 943-3181
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238A
John Sowell
Emeritus Professor of Biology
B.S., University of California-Davis; Ph.D., University of Idaho.
Phone: 970.943.2063
Office Location: