Wildlife & Conservation Biology

Get Involved

A college education is more than just taking courses. Meet new people, apply your skills and stretch beyond your comfort zone. Make your education an experience.

  • Research Assistantships: Many professors conduct externally-funded research and are always looking for student help.
  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory: Western biologists and students collaborate with the world-renowned research station seven miles north of Crested Butte.
  • Thornton Biology Research Program: Students can receive funding and work with faculty on original research.
  • Tri Beta and The Wildlife Society: Student-run club that helps provide internships such as lynx tracking and watching wildlife. 


Ellie Orr


Ellie Orr
Ellie Orr

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.”

Snowboarding, bats and butterflies: these are the things that have kept junior Ellie Orr busy.

Originally from Ohio, Ellie was drawn to the Rocky Mountains by Western’s Wildlife Biology major and unique outdoor opportunities.

“We have a great Biology program and the Mountain Sports program, those were my top two factors,” said Ellie, who plans to pursue a master's degree in Ecology—one of Western’s upcoming graduate programs.  

Even as a junior, Ellie has already accumulated a wealth of academic experience; she studied the endangered Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly the summer after her freshman year and completed a bat acoustic monitoring project for the Gunnison Bureau of Land Management following her sophomore year.

Over the course of that summer, Ellie completed every step of the research, from pre-planning and using the equipment to collecting and analyzing data.

“It was fun,” she said. “The biggest takeaway was learning how research will work in the future and getting hands-on experience doing it on my own.”

Her enthusiasm doesn’t stop with academics; Ellie was also the first woman snowboarder to join the Mountain Sports Freeride Team.

One of the challenges, she said, was “keeping up with the boys.”

“Our first trip was me and 28 guys,” she recalls, noting that adapting from the park snowboard team to the freeride team was particularly difficult.

“It’s a struggle. … It’s more technical, but I love being a diverse snowboarder.”

But, she says, the athletes are just as adamant about forging friendships as they are about their competitions.

“[During] our first competition at the Canadian Open, I took third and the whole team cheered when I got up there. It felt like I’d accomplished something, and it felt great to have a whole team of people supporting me,” Ellie said.  

The common thread between her passion for snowboarding and for Wildlife Biology is their mutual involvement in environmental matters.

“My biggest thing is wanting to have an impact on our environment through researching things like climate change,” she said. “Our professors are trying to give us [hands-on] experience.”

Overall, it’s those experiences Ellie has had with her professors and with her team that set Western apart.

“The people I’ve met, the surrounding environment … and the supportive professors combined have really made it a great place. I know I’m never going to want to leave.”

Faculty & Staff


Kevin Alexander, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology; Chair, Department of Natural and Environmental Sciences
Phone: 970.943.3405
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143C
Robin A. Bingham, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology
Phone: 970.943.3355
Office Location: Hurst Hall 222
Peter H. Gauss headshot
Professor of Biology
Phone: 970.943.2094
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238B
Shan Hays, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology
Phone: 970.943.2552
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238C
Amy Honan headshot
Biology Lab Coordinator, Lecturer in Biology, Curator of Fungi
Phone: 970.943.2437
Office Location: Hurst Hall 128A
Derek  D. Houston, Ph.D. headshot
Thornton Chair in Biology
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143B
Patrick Magee, Ph.D. headshot
Assistant Professor of Wildlife and Conservation Biology
Phone: 970.943.7121
Office Location: Hurst Hall 143A
Cassandra Osborne, Ph.D. headshot
Professor of Biology
Phone: 970.943.3181
Office Location: Hurst Hall 238A


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 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. 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) (3 credits)

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. 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 495 - Senior Seminar (1 credits)

An examination of biological subdisciplines through an investigation of the primary literature. The professional practices, procedures, and standards of the subdiscipline are discussed. This course may be repeated for credit and must be taken twice to fulfill the capstone course requirement. Prerequisites: Biology Nucleus; and MATH 151 or MATH 213.

 BIOL 496 - Senior Thesis (1 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.

  • Bachelor of Science in Biology
    • Emphasis


    Wildlife & Conservation Biology students study the principles and develop the skills needed to manage and conserve wildlife and their habitats. Facing the effects of climate change, rapid human population growth and urban development, graduates of this degree are on the front lines of managing and preserving the natural environment for future generations. Situated in the Gunnison Basin—82 percent of which is public land—Western is an ideal place for students to immerse in an expansive learning laboratory.

    The Program 

    The Wildlife & Conservation Biology emphasis is geared toward students interested in careers working in the field, whether that be for conservation agencies or game, wildlife and resource management. Students dive into hands-on coursework and labs their first year, and are in classes where they will be on a first-name basis with their professors. As students advance to upper-division courses, they develop experimental design and science communication skills. Students 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.

    Careers & Opportunities

    Before Wildlife & Conservation students graduate, they will have numerous networking opportunities with natural resource 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 at 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 

    Reach out to Patrick Magee, Ph.D. for more information.