National Search Yields New UM Forestry Dean

A picture of the new forestry college dean
Alan Townsend

MISSOULA – Dr. Alan Townsend, an ecosystem ecologist who previously led distinguished programs at Duke University and the University of Colorado Boulder, will join the University of Montana as dean of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. Townsend will start his new duties Oct. 1.

“We are thrilled to welcome Alan Townsend to the University of Montana,” said Jon Harbor, UM executive vice president and provost. “His expertise in the environmental sciences and inspiring academic leadership experience are well matched to the legacy of UM’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. I am very excited about Dr. Townsend’s vision for the college’s future.”

Originally from Missoula, Townsend is an ecosystem ecologist who studies how ecosystems work, how they change and what those changes might mean for society. His internationally prominent research includes work on nutrient cycling and biogeochemistry in tropical forests, as well as global-scale analyses of human impact on major element cycles.

Townsend holds a Ph.D. in biological sciences and currently serves as provost of Colorado College. He spent 17 years on the faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder before becoming dean of the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment in 2014.

He returned to CU Boulder early in 2017 as the associate vice chancellor for research, working to advance the university’s $500 million research mission. He also was a Research Fellow in the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and professor of environmental studies. He became the first provost of Colorado College in 2018.

“I’m honored and humbled to join the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation –one of the very best colleges of its kind and a place I’ve known and admired for years,” Townsend said. “UM and Missoula have been tied to our family for decades, and we can’t wait to return home.”

The W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation is so named to recognize transformative support from the Franke family. In 2016, the family pledged $24 million focused on students and programs in the college and in support of UM’s Global Leadership Initiative. The gift created several endowments that support ongoing environmental research and opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to explore society’s most pressing questions, combining local and global hands-on practical experiences with classroom education.

To foster the University’s engagement of a visionary leader for the college, Bill and Carolyn Franke and their family recently pledged $1.25 million to establish the W.A. Franke Professor of Forestry and Conservation. The endowment created by their gift annually will support part of the salary and benefits for the dean position, as well as funds the dean can direct to support the college’s programs and initiatives.

“The research and scholarship occurring within the college is vital to our expanding knowledge of climate, ecology and for preparing students to be leaders in these areas of global importance,” Bill Franke said. “Dr. Townsend will be leading a team of nationally renowned scientists in one of the preeminent forestry and conservation programs in the world.” 

UM President Seth Bodnar echoed enthusiasm for Townsend and also for the new endowment created by the Franke family.

“Dr. Townsend’s research in ecosystem ecology is highly regarded, as is his leadership in a variety of roles within the academy,” Bodnar said. “I’m thrilled that our College of Forestry and Conservation will have a leader of Alan’s caliber at its helm. I’m also grateful for the support of this new endowment from the Franke family to enable us to attract such world-class leaders to the University of Montana.”


The 2016 and 2020 Franke family pledges are part of Campaign Montana, a comprehensive seven-year fundraising campaign that is inspiring more than $400 million in philanthropic giving to benefit UM through Aug. 31, 2020. Donors will help achieve UM's vision of a university that puts student success at the forefront, driving excellence and innovation in teaching, research and learning. Campaign Montana is a collaborative effort undertaken by UM and the UM Foundation. Visit to learn more.