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.


Ellie Orr
“The people I’ve met, the surrounding environment … and the supportive professors combined have really made [Western] a great place. I know I’m never going to want to leave.”
Zoe Smith
I felt like if I went to Western my success really mattered and they were committed to helping me out. It was the best decision I ever made!
Zoe Smith climing
Zoe rounds out her Wildlife Biology and Ecology classes by guiding trips for Wilderness Pursuits.

Faculty & Staff


Kevin Alexander headshot
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 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
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
Dr. Shan Hays headshot
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
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, M.S., University of Missouri, Ph.D., University of Missouri
Phone: 970.943.7121
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143A
Cassandra L. Osborne headshot
Professor of Biology
B.S., Allegheny College, Ph.D., Dartmouth College
Phone: 970.943.3181
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238A
John Sowell 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 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.

 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.