Ecoregions denote areas of general similarity in ecosystems and in the type, quality, and quantity of environmental resources; they are designed to serve as a spatial framework for the research, assessment, management, and monitoring of ecosystems and ecosystem components. By recognizing the spatial differences in the capacities and potentials of ecosystems, ecoregions stratify the environment by its probable response to disturbance (Bryce and others, 1999). These general purpose regions are critical for structuring and implementing ecosystem management strategies across federal agencies, state agencies, and nongovernment organizations that are responsible for different types of resources within the same geographical areas (Omernik and others, 2000).
The approach used to compile this map is based on the premise that ecological regions can be identified through the analysis of the spatial patterns and the composition of biotic and abiotic phenomena that affect or reflect differences in ecosystem quality and integrity (Wiken, 1986; Omernik, 1987, 1995). These phenomena include geology, physiography, vegetation, climate, soils, land use, wildlife, and hydrology.
The relative importance of each characteristic varies from one ecological region to another, regardless of the hierarchical level. A Roman numeral hierarchical scheme has been adopted for different levels of ecological regions. Level I is the coarsest level, dividing North America into 15 ecological regions. Level II divides the continent into 52 regions (Commission for Environmental Cooperation Working Group, 1997). At level III, the continental United States contains 104 ecoregions and the conterminous United States has 84 ecoregions (United States Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA], 2003). Level IV is a further subdivision of level III ecoregions. Explanations of the methods used to define the USEPA’s ecoregions are given in Omernik (1995), Omernik and others (2000), Griffith and others (1994), and Gallant and others (1989, 1995).
Colorado contains arid canyons, semiarid shrub- and grass-covered plains, alluvial valleys, lava fields and volcanic plateaus, woodland- and shrubland-covered hills, forested mountains, glaciated peaks, wetlands, and a variety of aquatic habitats. Ecological diversity is enormous. There are 6 level III ecoregions and 35 level IV ecoregions in Colorado, and many continue into ecologically similar parts of adjacent states.
The level III and IV ecoregion map on this poster was compiled at a scale of 1:250,000 and depicts revisions and subdivisions of earlier level III ecoregions that were originally compiled at a smaller scale (USEPA, 2003; Gallant and others, 1989; Omernik, 1987). This poster is part of a collaborative project primarily between USEPA Region VIII, USEPA National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (Corvallis, Oregon), Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW), United States Department of AgricultureForest Service (USFS), United States Department of AgricultureNatural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), United States Department of the InteriorBureau of Land Management (BLM), and United States Department of the InteriorGeological Survey (USGS)National Center for Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS).
The project is associated with an interagency effort to develop a common framework of ecological regions. Reaching that objective requires recognition of the differences in the conceptual approaches and mapping methodologies applied to develop the most common ecoregion-type frameworks, including those developed by the USFS (Bailey and others, 1994), the USEPA (Omernik, 1987, 1995), and the NRCS (U.S. Department of AgricultureSoil Conservation Service, 1981). As each of these frameworks is further refined, their differences are becoming less discernible. Regional collaborative projects, such as this one in Colorado, where agreement has been reached among multiple resource management agencies, are a step toward attaining consensus and consistency in ecoregion frameworks for the entire nation.
Bailey, R.G., Avers, P.E., King, T., and McNab, W.H., eds., 1994, Ecoregions and subregions of the United States (map) (supplementary table of map unit descriptions compiled and edited by McNab, W.H., and Bailey, R.G.): Washington, D.C., USFS, scale 1:7,500,000.
Bryce, S.A., Omernik, J.M., and Larsen, D.P., 1999, Ecoregions a geographic framework to guide risk characterization and ecosystem management: Environmental Practice, v. 1, no. 3, p. 141-155.
Commission for Environmental Cooperation Working Group, 1997, Ecological regions of North America toward a common perspective: Montreal, Commission for Environmental Cooperation, 71 p.
Gallant, A.L., Binnian, E.F., Omernik, J.M., and Shasby, M.B., 1995, Ecoregions of Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1567, Washington D.C., 73 p.
Gallant, A.L., Whittier, T.R., Larsen, D.P., Omernik, J.M., and Hughes, R.M., 1989, Regionalization as a tool for managing environmental resources: Corvallis, Oregon, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA/600/3-89/060, 152 p.
Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Wilton, T.F., and Pierson, S.M., 1994, Ecoregions and subregions of Iowa a framework for water quality assessment and management: Journal of the Iowa Academy of Science, v. 101, no. 1, p. 5-13.
Omernik, J.M., 1987, Ecoregions of the conterminous United States (map supplement): Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 77, no. 1, p. 118-125, scale 1:7,500,000.
Omernik, J.M., 1995, Ecoregions a framework for environmental management, in Davis, W.S., and Simon, T.P., eds., Biological assessment and criteria-tools for water resource planning and decision making: Boca Raton, Florida, Lewis Publishers, p. 49-62.
Omernik, J.M., Chapman, S.S., Lillie, R.A., and Dumke, R.T., 2000, Ecoregions of Wisconsin: Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, v. 88, p. 77-103.
U.S. Department of AgricultureSoil Conservation Service, 1981, Land resource regions and major land resource areas of the United States: Agriculture Handbook 296, 156 p.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2003, Level III ecoregions of the continental United States (revision of Omernik, 1987): Corvallis, Oregon, USEPA National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Map M-1, various scales.
Wiken, E., 1986, Terrestrial ecozones of Canada: Ottawa, Environment Canada, Ecological Land Classification Series no. 19, 26 p.
PRINCIPAL AUTHORS: Shannen S. Chapman (Dynamac Corporation), Glenn E. Griffith (Dynamac Corporation), James M. Omernik (USGS), Alan B. Price (NRCS), Jerry Freeouf (USFS), and Donald L. Schrupp (CO Department of Wildlife [CODOW]).
COLLABORATORS AND CONTRIBUTORS: Tony Selle (USEPA), Shannon Albeke (CODOW), Sandy Bryce (Dynamac Corporation), Ed Rumbold (BLM), Tom Weber (NRCS), Carol Dawson, (BLM), Eric Waller (CODOW), Christy Pickens (CDPHE), Brian Moran (Indus Corporation), John Hutchinson (Science Applications International Corporation), and Jack Wittmann (USGS).
REVIEWERS: Patrick Comer (NatureServe), Alisa Gallant (USGS), Tom Huber (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs), and Ron West (CO State Parks).
CITING THIS POSTER: Chapman, S.S., Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Price, A.B., Freeouf, J., and Schrupp, D.L., 2006, Ecoregions of Colorado (color poster with map, descriptive text, summary tables, and photographs): Reston, Virginia, U.S. Geological Survey (map scale 1:1,200,000).
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