Missouri’s natural environment is highly diverse, with several distinct geological and ecological regions. Rolling hills and prairies are predominant in the north and west; the forested Ozark highlands are in the south; and low, flat land characterizes the state’s southeast region. Missouri is rich in scenic natural formations such as waterways, rocky hills, and caves; in habitats for fauna and flora; and in natural resources such as fertile soils, valuable minerals, and abundant supplies of water. The state is situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the two longest rivers in the United States. Historically, these rivers have served as transportation networks and geopolitical boundaries, shaping Missouri’s heritage as a significant crossroads and border region.
The natural environment has always played a major role in the lives of Missourians. The constant need for food, shelter, building materials, and energy sources has determined where people chose to live and how well they were able to survive. With the development of communities, towns, and large cities, Missourians faced new environmental issues such as the contamination of the soil and waterways, air pollution, depletion of resources, and the need to safely dispose of toxic waste in its various forms. Additionally, land development has disrupted ecological systems and displaced wildlife from its natural habitat.
All of this has combined to produce imbalances in Missouri’s ecosystem. Conservation authorities have for decades monitored the physical environment in an effort to sustain it for both current and future generations of Missourians. The State Historical Society of Missouri houses an extensive collection of manuscripts, photographs, editorial cartoons, magazines, and other materials that focus on this subject.