Environmental Science

The environmental science program at Rocky Mountain College, while simultaneously cultivating skills in critical thinking and effective communication, provides students with the intellectual training necessary for understanding the complexity of natural ecosystems as they interface with human concerns.

The environmental science program provides an education of multiple dimensions uniquely characterized in two general ways: through specialty and interdisciplinary courses in the environment ranging from the natural and social sciences to the humanities and arts and through an intensive hands-on approach to our great outdoor classroom, Yellowstone County.

Upon graduation, students are prepared for a wide and rapidly evolving range of careers concerned with the interface between human beings and their environment. For those students whose career choices require graduate or professional study, the environmental science program provides the training and discipline necessary for the pursuit of an advanced degree.

Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate with a major in environmental science will be able to:

  1. Understand the principles of ecology and environmental issues that apply to air, land, and water issues on a global scale;
  2. Develop critical-thinking and/or observation skills and apply them to the analysis of a problem or question related to the environment;
  3. Demonstrate ecology knowledge of a complex relationship between predators, prey, and the plant community;
  4. Apply their ecological knowledge to illustrate and graph a problem and describe the realities that managers face when dealing with a complex issues;
  5. Understand how politics and management have ecological consequences.

Major in Environmental Science

The major requires a minimum of 59 total semester hours. A minimum of 33 semester hours must come from ESC courses. A total of seven semester hours must be 300-level or above from ESC or BIO electives (3 semester hours may be through the Yellowstone Association Institute agreement with RMC).

The following courses are required:
BIO 120: Principles of Biology
CHM 101: General Chemistry I
ESC 105: Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities
ESC 209: Field Survey Techniques in Zoology
ESC 251: Environmental Document Writing and Review
ESC 321: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
ESC 436: Yellowstone Winter Ecology
ESC 450: Internship (does not count toward minimum semester hours)
EST 101: Introduction to Environmental Studies
EST 102: Introduction to Environmental Studies Lab
GEO 101: Fundamentals of Geology
GEO 104: Fundamentals of Geology Laboratory
MAT 210: Probability and Statistics

Choose one of the following:
ESC 314: Range Ecology
ESC 325: Wetlands and Riparian Ecology

Choose one of the following:
ESC 317: Bird Conservation and Research
ESC 330: Wildlife Management and Conservation

Choose one of the following:
CHM 102: General Chemistry II
ESC 316: Geochemistry

Choose three of the following:
ECO 354: Environmental Economics
EST 226: Energy and Society
ENG 244: Literature and the Environment
HST 365: American Environmental History
PHR 304: Environmental Ethics
PHR 378: Philosophy of Technology and Modern Culture
POL 313: Environmental Politics

An internship is required and can be used for up to four semester hours of science electives with permission from faculty.

Minor in Environmental Science

A minimum of 26 semester hours is required, including:
ESC 105: Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities
ESC 251: Environmental Document Writing and Review
EST 226: Energy and Society

Choose one of the following:
BIO 120: Principles of Biology
CHM 101: General Chemistry I
GEO 101/104: Fundamentals of Geology and Laboratory

In addition, 12 semester hours in upper-division courses are required from any upper-division ESC course.

BIO 112 - General Biology II
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 4
An introductory course that emphasizes organization within the individual, population, and community levels of biology. Topics include basic genetics, population genetics, evolution, diversity of organisms, and ecology. The laboratory emphasizes the process of scientific investigation, including the design, analysis, and presentation of biological experiments. Field trips outside of regular class time may be required. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.
BIO 120 - Principles of Biology
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 4
An introductory survey course that covers cell structure and metabolism, patterns of inheritance, molecular genetics, evolutionary mechanisms, and diversity. The weekly laboratory sessions teach basic laboratory skills, experimental design, application of statistics, and communication of results via laboratory reports. This course is appropriate for both major and non-majors. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory period per week.
CHM 101 - General Chemistry I
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4
This course introduces students to the science of chemistry. The concepts of atoms, molecules, bonding, and energy successfully explain the properties of matter and how reactions happen. Goals of this course include introducing students to representative materials and reactions, to important models and theories of the science, and to the symbols and language of chemists. The laboratory will involve observations of elements, compounds and their reactions (including synthesis), and quantitative measurements of properties or amounts of matter. Three hours of lecture, one two-hour laboratory session, and one hour of recitation per week.
Corequesite: MAT 100 or higher mathematics course or placement into MAT 110 or higher mathematics course
CHM 102 - General Chemistry II
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 4
This course will further develop the principles presented in CHM 101 with emphasis on the following core concepts: chemical kinetics, chemical equilibria, solution and acidbase chemistry, thermodynamics of reactions, and electrochemistry. Examples used in this course will point to the various branches of chemical studies (organic, physical, biological, inorganic, analytical, geological, materials, and nuclear). The knowledge and skills gained over the two semesters will be applied to the analysis of a contemporary topic or issue in chemistry. The laboratory experiments are designed to explore chemical principles and to expose students to more advanced chemical instrumentation in the department. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.
Prerequisite: CHM 101 with a grade of C- or higher
ECO 354 - Environmental Economics
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
Students examine the application of microeconomics to problems of the environment. This course is offered both for the major and for those interested in environmental problems.
Prerequisite: ECO 205
ENG 244 - Literature and the Environment
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
This course is a comparative study of the environmental imagination as expressed in literature. By reading and discussing a wide range of literary texts, students investigate timeless and more urgent questions, such as “What is nature?”; “What is our responsibility to the environment?”; and “How do various cultures express their relation to the natural world?”.
ESC 105 - Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 4
An introductory course designed for students entering the environmental sciences and studies program and for other students who would like to take an ecology lab course. Topics address the central concepts of ecology including the physical environment in which life exists. Students will explore the properties and processes of populations and communities, ecosystem dynamics, biogeography and biodiversity, as well as issues in conservation and restoration ecology. In the laboratory, students will apply these concepts to ecological studies in the natural environment and learn how to present their results in a scientific report. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.
ESC 207 - Montana Wildflowers
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 4
Students receive an intensive introduction to the evolutionary relationships of vascular plants and their classification. The course emphasizes plant identification based on use of taxonomic keys and focuses on angiosperm species in the Yellowstone River watershed, particularly the prairie habitats, the Pryor Mountains, the riparian habitats of the Yellowstone, and the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains. Field trips are required. This course may be taken at the lower-division level or at the upper-division level, but not both.
Prerequisite: BIO 120 or ESC 105
ESC 209 - Field Survey Techniques in Zoology
Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 4
A field and laboratory course covering basic field techniques to survey and inventory areas to assess biodiversity, with an emphasis on Montana mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish fauna. Topics include species identification, survey and trapping, experimental design, data analysis, and report completion. Once identification and survey skills are learned, field teams will be formed and assigned to survey and inventory local habitats of concern with the goal of helping guide local management and restoration of these habitats. An additional fee is required.
Prerequisite: ESS 105 and/or BIO 120
ESC 215 - Fast Food Nation
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
Are we what we eat? This course focuses on the environmental impacts of our food systems. Plants matter to us at the most basic level. They have evolved to provide us with nutrients by appealing to our senses of taste, touch, smell, and sight. We humans have responded by manipulating plants in a quest for “fast” (and cheap) food. This course uses the scientific concepts of plant growth, technology, and ecology to evaluate our environmental health in our diet and to explore several new, alternative approaches for healthy eating.
ESC 230 - Rainforest Ecology
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course introduces students to the concepts of population and community ecology through studies of rainforest geography, flora, and fauna. Students read scientific papers focusing on rain forest plants and animals and the complex interactions of these organisms in rainforest environments. Students discuss environmental issues such as sustainable agriculture, global cycling of air and water, and conservation biology as those issues pertain to rainforest issues today.
Prerequisite: ENG 119 and ENG 120
ESC 243 - Environments of Costa Rica
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 4
This field course takes place in Costa Rica during spring break. In lectures and in Costa Rica over spring break, students will learn about the complexity and diversity of tropical forest ecosystems. Lectures and field activities focus on those ecological concepts particular to rainforests, natural history walks, bird studies, field activities that explore adaptations of plants and animals to tropical ecosystems, and examination of issues of tropical conservation. Students stay at field stations in different tropical forests environments. Additional travel fees are required.
ESC 244 - Island Biogeography in the Galapagos
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 4
This field course takes place in the Galapagos Islands over spring break. Students will have the opportunity to examine various islands and their associated species in the Galapagos from a small sleep-aboard boat. Lectures and readings will cover the theory of island biogeography, unique flora and fauna of the islands, speciation of Darwin’s Finches, conservation in developing countries, ecotourism, and marine ecosystems. Opportunities will exist for nature hikes, bird watching, and snorkeling. Additional travel fees are required.
ESC 247 - Biogeopraphy
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
Biology, geology, geography, paleontology, and ecology form the roots of this multidisciplinary science. One of the most intriguing problems facing life scientists today is how to explain the diversity of organisms and their varying patterns of distribution over the surface of the earth now and through time. Why are there so many species of grasses in one field in Montana? What factors determine how many species may be present on an island at any particular time? What does the fossil record reveal about the changing patterns of distribution of organisms? How do interactions between organisms affect the likelihood of species occurring in communities? What changes in species distribution are taking place on our planet today? Biogeography has relevance to many contemporary problems regarding species conservation. An understanding of the processes that have influenced successes and failures of other species in other times and circumstances will help us to understand particular contemporary ecological challenges.
ESC 251 - Environmental Document Writing and Review
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course will help participants learn to identify the writing and editing requirements unique to environmental and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, including making graphics, writing chapters, and reviewing documents for accuracy. Participants will also practice interdisciplinary team skills as they relate to each phase of the analysis and documentation process. Students will also learn how to review the full range of NEPA documents including Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), Environmental Assessments (EAs), Findings of No Significant Impacts (FONSIs), and Records of Decisions (RODs). We will also review documents in support of NEPA such as Biological Survey Reports. Participants will concentrate on setting review priorities and reviewing for compliance with the law and for quality and clarity.
Prerequisite: ESC 105 or EST 101
ESC 299 - Independent Study
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-3
This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.
ESC 307 - Montana Wildflowers
Semester: Summer
Semester hours: 4
Students receive an intensive introduction to the evolutionary relationships of vascular plants and their classification. The course emphasizes plant identification based on use of taxonomic keys and focuses on angiosperm species in the Yellowstone River watershed, particularly the prairie habitats, the Pryor Mountains, the riparian habitats of the Yellowstone, and the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains. Field trips are required. Students in the 300-level course will collect, identify, and prepare a greater number of plants for the herbarium. This course may be taken at the lower-division level or at the upper-division level, but not both.
Prerequisite: BIO 120 or ESC 105
ESC 314 - Range Ecology
Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
This course is the study of mixed grass prairies of the West and an introduction to ecological concepts applicable to that area. Topics include historical and current land use, ecosystem responses to change, methods for maintaining natural prairie habitats, the use of prairies as rangelands, and determinations of ecological conditions and trends on rangelands. The laboratory focuses on identification of common prairie plant species and their importance for both wildlife and domestic animals. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.
Prerequisite: BIO 120, CHM 101, and CHM 102
ESC 316 - Geochemistry
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
Scientific literature and other resources will be used to illustrate the current ideas about the mechanisms that control water quality and chemistry in aqueous systems. Lecture topics will include hydrogeology, acid-base and reduction-oxidation reactions in natural systems, the geochemistry of metals, stable isotope geochemistry, and case studies of contaminated sites in Montana and throughout the West. Laboratory exercises will include basic sample collection, measurement of major ion concentration, and geochemical modeling with several field exercises. Three hours of lecture and two hours of laboratory per week. This course is cross-listed with GEO 316.
Prerequisite: GEO 101, CHM 101
ESC 317 - Bird Conservation and Research
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
This is a field and laboratory course covering bird evolution, life histories, behavior, populations, and conservation. Laboratory time will focus on survey techniques and bird observations and identification in the field. The primary objective of this course is to teach students the role of evolution in the development of special adaptations of bird characteristics and systems as well as the importance of conservation of populations and bird habitats around the world. Specific case studies will examine complex conservation issues of North America species. Students will be required to design a field study project to address a bird conservation question.
Prerequisite: ESC 105 or BIO 120 and ESC 209
ESC 321 - Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 4
This course introduces students to the theory and practical application of geographic information systems (GIS). Topics include fundamentals of cartography, GIS data types, data input, GIS database structure and management, analysis of spatially distributed data, and report preparations using GIS.
Prerequisite: MAT 100 and a previous science course
ESC 325 - Wetlands and Riparian Ecology
Semester: Fall; Alternate Years
Semester hours: 4
The biology and chemistry of wetlands is studied in this course. Topics include the investigation of wetland structure, wetland functions, and the ecological value of wetlands. The laboratory introduces protocols for analyzing wetland plant communities and includes a field study of a wetland in the Billings community. Students learn legally acceptable methods for determining wetland boundaries. The course examines the ecology of rivers and compares differences in hydrological processes of rivers and wetlands. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.
Prerequisite: BIO 120, CHM 101, and CHM 102
ESC 330 - Wildlife Management and Conservation
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
A multidisciplinary approach to conservation and management issues encompassing genetics to ethics. Topics include population genetics, evolutionary mechanisms, biodiversity, reserve design, and re-introduction strategies. Written reports and oral presentations are required. An additional fee is required.
Prerequisite: BIO 120 and ESC 105
ESC 345 - Soil Science
Semester: Fall; Alternate Years
Semester hours: 4
This course provides an introduction to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils; soil formation and classification; nutrient cycling; and land resource planning and protection. The laboratory includes field trips. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.
Prerequisite: CHM 101, GEO 101, and GEO 104
ESC 401 - Application of Geographic Information Systems
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 4
Application of GIS is used to produce a professional report using real-world data in cooperation with a business, an industry, or a government agency. Software and projects vary from year to year. Three two-hour sessions per week.
Prerequisite: ESC 321
ESC 436 - Yellowstone Winter Ecology
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4
This course focuses on the ecology of Yellowstone National Park, particularly emphasizing the complex interactions of large mammals with the forest and range plant communities. Students explore the methods used by the National Park Service to establish natural resource policies and examine the Park’s scientific research priorities. Two extended weekend laboratories provide research opportunities that include topics in winter ecology and aspects of the role of large mammals in the Yellowstone ecosystem. An additional fee is required.
Prerequisite: ENG 119, ENG 120, and BIO 112
ESC 450 - Internship
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-4
A maximum of three semester hours can be counted toward a major in environmental studies or a major or minor in environmental science. This course is a guided work experience in an already established place of business. The student must arrange the internship in agreement with the instructor and the Office of Career Services. Contract is required. Pass/no pass grading.
Prerequisite: junior or senior standing
ESC 490 - Seminar
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 2-3
Selected topics in environmental sciences or environmental studies are explored.
ESC 495 - Advanced Field Research Techniques
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 4
Designed as an advanced research techniques class, this course takes students through the process of research development. The focus will be on more in-depth student-developed field projects that will include several overnight field trips in Montana. Additional skills learned will include marking and population assessments, survey and trapping techniques (such as electro-fishing – or for specialized species (such as bats)), and radio-telemetry and tracking. The development of independent or team projects implemented locally will be required for the latter portion of the semester.
Prerequisite: ESC 209 or BIO 306
ESC 499 - Independent Study
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-3
This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.
Prerequisite: junior or senior standing
EST 101 - Introduction to Environmental Studies
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 3
This course explores the complexity of environmental issues as approached from the perspectives of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Since environmental issues are inherently complex, attention is focused on how human beings perceive, understand, and respond to environmental change. Emphasis is placed on developing students’ abilities to investigate matters critically and to respond in original, thoughtful, and imaginative ways.
Corequesite: EST 102
EST 102 - Introduction to Environmental Studies Lab
Semester: Fall; 1
Semester hours:
This course introduces students through field experience to some of the landscape and environmental issues in our region. Depending on the instructor, students will be involved in some combination of various activities, including backpacks, a river cleanup, a film festival, among other outdoor activities. They will be expected to keep journals, write papers, or learn basic photography and watercolor techniques.
Corequesite: EST 101
EST 226 - Energy and Society
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
This course is designed to introduce students to baseline knowledge, theories, and analytical techniques that will help them better understand and communicate effectively about the scientific, technical, economic, social, political, and environmental dimensions of Earth-Energy-Society interactions. While other energy sources will be discussed, the course focuses primarily on human use of energy from hydrocarbons (fossil fuels). In this class, students will examine patterns in Earth-Energy-Society interactions from a historical-geographic perspective. Particular attention will be given to policy tools and technical options for addressing problematic/unsustainable patterns of energy production.
GEO 101 - Fundamentals of Geology
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course provides an introduction to the science of earth materials, earth systems, and earth history, including the study of minerals, rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes, rock deformation and metamorphism, weathering, and erosion within the modern paradigm of plate tectonics. Special emphasis is placed on interpreting the geologic landscape and history of the Rocky Mountains through an understanding of Earth processes. Three hours of lecture and one recommended two-hour laboratory per week, plus field trips. This course fulfills a natural lab science core curriculum requirement if taken concurrently with GEO 104.
GEO 104 - Fundamentals of Geology Laboratory
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 1
Focus on description of the earth materials and earth systems within the framework of plate tectonic theory. Introduction to identification of minerals, rocks, geologic maps, and structures.
Corequesite: GEO 101
HST 365 - American Environmental History
Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
This course examines the interrelationship of human society and nature in American history. Topics will include ecology as it relates to European conquest of the Americas, Native American peoples, public lands policies, American national character, technological society, conservation, and the modern environmental movement.
MAT 210 - Probability and Statistics
Semester: Fall, Spring, and Summer
Semester hours: 3
This course provides a non-calculus-based study of discrete probability theory and its statistical applications. Distribution theory and its applications in hypothesis testing and setting confidence intervals are discussed.
Prerequisite: MAT 100 or satisfactory score on a placement exam
PHR 304 - Environmental Ethics
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
This course will address issues such as whether natural beings and the natural world have rights or whether only humans have rights. Students will determine what is ethically appropriate for humans in their relationship with the environment as well as what environmental ethics must take account of to be consequential in the world today.
PHR 378 - Philosophy of Technology and Modern Culture
Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
It is often a difficult task to understand one's own culture and age. Recent philosophical work offers profound insights into our age and places these insights within a much wider context.
POL 313 - Environmental Politics
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course explores the political problems associated with the human impact on the natural environment: pollution, natural resources, public lands, land use, energy, cultural/social justice, and population.
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