Ecoregions of the Midwest

By Jeffery Robichaud

I spent a couple of weeks this summer with my family on the beach in North Carolina.  I’m not the most social fellow in vacation settings, so I spent most of the time splashing in the waves with my sons.   Occasionally, I was forced into some small talk with locals at attractions while waiting for the boys to complete a ride.  Invariably, the question, “Where ya from?” would enter the conversation.  Whether I answered Kansas, Missouri, Kansas City, or the Midwest the responses were all the same…”really flat out there isn’t it…lots of corn huh?” (I’m choosing to leave out comments about the Royals as there is no need to kick them when they are down).

Yes Kansas is flat.  Yes we grow lots of corn in this part of the country.  But our four-State Region is not just a boring landscape of monoculture and interstate.  We have a tremendous diversity of unique ecosystems; from the Sandhills of Nebraska to the Mingo Swamp of the Missouri bootheel….from the Flint Hills of Kansas to the Prairie Potholes of Iowa.

Photos: University of Nebraksa Lincoln, US FWS, NASA, and Emporia State University

Over twenty years ago James Omernik with EPA’s Office of Research and Development worked with colleagues at EPA and with other organizations throughout the country to develop a map of Ecoregions for the United States.

Designed to serve as a spatial framework for the research assessment, and monitoring of ecosystems and ecosystem components, ecoregions denote areas within which ecosystems (and the type, quality, and quantity of environmental resources) are generally similar. By recognizing the spatial differences in the capacities and potentials of ecosystems, ecoregions stratify the environment by its probable response to disturbance. These general purpose regions are critical for structuring and implementing ecosystem management strategies across federal agencies, state agencies, and nongovernmental organizations that are responsible for different types of resources within the same geographical areas.


You can get a copy of EPA’s Level 3 Ecoregions (the most commonly used Ecoregion) for the entire country as a zipped shapefile here, as well as the metadata here, and symbology here.  Download them and see for yourself how many different ecosystems we have here in Region 7.  Or drop us a comment.  Last week I mentioned we were packing up maps and wouldn’t you know, we found extra copies of unused wall sized Level III Ecoregion maps of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska which could sure use good homes.

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7’s Environmental Services Division.