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- For information on Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes, contact:
- Andy Stoltman
Forest Transition Ecological Landscape
Landscape at a Glance
|Physical & Biotic Environment|
7,279 square miles (4,658,498 acres), representing 12.9% of the land area of the State, making it the fourth largest Ecological Landscape in the state.
Because this Ecological Landscape extends east-west across much of Wisconsin, the climate is variable. In addition, it straddles a major eco-climatic zone (the "Tension Zone) that runs southeast-northwest across the state. The mean growing season is 133 days, mean annual temperature is 41.9 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 32.6, and mean annual snowfall is 50.2 inches. The growing season is long enough that agriculture is viable, although climatic conditions are not as favorable for many crops as they are in southern Wisconsin.
Throughout most of the Forest Transition, the uppermost layer of bedrock is Precambrian volcanic and metamorphic rock. Precambrian bedrock underlies the eastern portion of the Ecological Landscape, roughly east of U.S. Hwy. 13, and also underlies a small area at the far western end in Polk County. A large area in the west-central part is underlain by Cambrian sandstones with inclusions of dolomite and shale. A small area in Polk County is underlain by Ordovician dolomite.
Geology & Landforms
The Forest Transition was entirely glaciated. The central portion was formed by older glaciations, both Illinoian and pre-Illinoian, while the eastern and western portions are covered by deposits of the Wisconsin glaciation. Glacial till is the major type of material deposited throughout, and the prevalent landforms are till plains or moraines. Throughout the area, post-glacial erosion, stream cutting, and deposition formed floodplains, terraces, and swamps along major rivers. Wind-deposited silt material (loess) formed a layer 6 to 24 inches thick.
Most soils are non-calcareous, moderately well-drained sandy loams derived from glacial till, but there is considerable diversity in the range of soil attributes. The area includes sandy soils formed in outwash, as well as organic soils, and loam and silt loam soils on moraines. There are many areas with shallow soils. Drainage classes range from poorly drained to excessively drained. Density of the till is generally high enough to impede internal drainage, so there are many lakes and wetlands in most parts of the Forest Transition. Soils throughout the Ecological Landscape have silt loam surface deposits formed in aeolian loess, about 6 to 24 inches thick in much of the area.
Major river systems draining this Ecological Landscape include the Wolf, Wisconsin, Black, Chippewa, and St. Croix.
Landcover is highly variable by subsection, dominant landform, and major land use. The eastern part of the Ecological Landscape remains heavily forested, the central portion is dominated by agricultural uses (with most of the historically abundant mesic forest cleared), and the west end is a mixture of forest, lakes, and agricultural land.
(based on data from Washburn, Polk, Barron, Chippewa, Taylor, Clark, Wood, Marathon, Lincoln, Langlade, Menominee, Shawano, Wood, Portage, and Waupaca counties)
639,625, 11.4% of the state total
49 persons/ sq. mile
Per Capita Income
Important Economic Sectors
Government, manufacturing (non-wood), health care & social services, and retail trade sectors provided the highest number of jobs in 2007. Agriculture (including commercial ginseng farms) is now the dominant land use in many areas that historically supported mesic forest. Timber and paper production, and recreational uses are highly significant in some parts of the Forest Transition.
About 88% of all forested land is privately-owned while 12% belongs to the state, counties or municipalities. Portions of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest); scattered state-owned lands include state parks, wildlife areas, fishery areas, and natural areas; and portions of the Barron, Burnett, Chippewa, Clark, Eau Claire, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Polk, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, and Washburn County Forests. A map showing public land ownership (county, state, and federal) and private lands enrolled in the Forest Tax Programs in this Ecological Landscape can be found at the end of this chapter.
Other Notable Ownerships
A large part of the Menominee Indian Reservation is in the Forest Transition and these tribal lands (along with some the adjoining publicly-owned forests) constitute the largest block of contiguous forest in this Ecological Landscape.
|Considerations for Planning & Management|
The Forest Transition stretches east to west across most of Wisconsin north of the Tension Zone and is quite heterogeneous. This Ecological Landscape has lost over half of its historic forests (though this is highly variable in different areas), and overall, is one of the most deforested landscapes north of the Tension Zone. Areas to the east remain heavily forested, the central areas are open and intensively farmed, and the western end is a mosaic of agricultural land, forest, and recreational lands. West of the Green Bay Lobe Stagnation Moraine Subsection (see glossary - this term comes from the National Hierarchical Framework of Ecological Units) this Ecological Landscape is highly fragmented, limiting most forest and grassland habitats and large-scale management opportunities. Large power dams occur on several of the major rivers, including the Wisconsin, Chippewa and St. Croix. Public ownership is uneven and concentrated along several of the larger rivers, as well as in some of the more heavily forested areas.
Species of Greatest Conservation Need
The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the Forest Transition Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan.
|American Bittern||Botaurus lentiginosus||3|
|American Golden Plover||Pluvialis dominica||3|
|American Woodcock||Scolopax minor||3|
|Bald Eagle||Haliaeetus leucocephalus||3|
|Black Tern||Chlidonias niger||3|
|Black-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus erythropthalmus||3|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||Dendroica caerulescens||3|
|Blue-winged Teal||Anas discors||3|
|Brown Thrasher||Toxostoma rufum||3|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||3|
|Field Sparrow||Spizella pusilla||3|
|Golden-winged Warbler||Vermivora chrysoptera||3|
|Greater Prairie-Chicken||Tympanuchus cupido||3|
|Least Flycatcher||Empidonax minimus||3|
|Lesser Scaup||Aythya affinis||3|
|Northern Harrier||Circus cyaneus||3|
|Red-headed Woodpecker||Melanerpes erythrocephalus||3|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Buteo lineatus||3|
|Short-billed Dowitcher||Limnodromus griseus||3|
|Trumpeter Swan||Cygnus buccinator||3|
|Vesper Sparrow||Pooecetes gramineus||3|
|Wood Thrush||Hylocichla mustelina||3|
|Acadian Flycatcher||Empidonax virescens||2|
|Blue-winged Warbler||Vermivora pinus||2|
|Buff-breasted Sandpiper||Tryngites subruficollis||2|
|Canada Warbler||Wilsonia canadensis||2|
|Cerulean Warbler||Dendroica cerulea||2|
|Grasshopper Sparrow||Ammodramus savannarum||2|
|Henslow's Sparrow||Ammodramus henslowii||2|
|Hooded Warbler||Wilsonia citrina||2|
|Hudsonian Godwit||Limosa haemastica||2|
|Le Conte's Sparrow||Ammodramus leconteii||2|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla||2|
|Northern Goshawk||Accipiter gentilis||2|
|Rusty Blackbird||Euphagus carolinus||2|
|Solitary Sandpiper||Tringa solitaria||2|
|Upland Sandpiper||Bartramia longicauda||2|
|Western Meadowlark||Sturnella neglecta||2|
|Yellow Rail||Coturnicops noveboracensis||2|
|Yellow-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus americanus||2|
|Barn Owl||Tyto alba||1|
|Black-backed Woodpecker||Picoides arcticus||1|
|Horned Grebe||Podiceps auritus||1|
|Loggerhead Shrike||Lanius ludovicianus||1|
|Marbled Godwit||Limosa fedoa||1|
|Olive-sided Flycatcher||Contopus cooperi||1|
|Red Crossbill||Loxia curvirostra||1|
|Short-eared Owl||Asio flammeus||1|
|Willow Flycatcher||Empidonax traillii||1|
|Black Redhorse||Moxostoma duquesnei||3|
|Ozark Minnow||Notropis nubilus||3|
|Redfin Shiner||Lythrurus umbratilis||3|
|Redside Dace||Clinostomus elongatus||2|
|Lake Chubsucker||Erimyzon sucetta||1|
|Lake Sturgeon||Acipenser fulvescens||1|
|Least Darter||Etheostoma microperca||1|
|River Redhorse||Moxostoma carinatum||1|
|Reptiles and Amphibians||Score|
|Four-toed Salamander||Hemidactylium scutatum||3|
|Pickerel Frog||Rana palustris||2|
|Mink Frog||Rana septentrionalis||1|
|Eastern Red Bat||Lasiurus borealis||3|
|Franklin's Ground Squirrel||Spermophilus franklinii||2|
|Gray Wolf||Canis lupus||2|
|Hoary Bat||Lasiurus cinereus||2|
|Northern Flying Squirrel||Glaucomys sabrinus||2|
|Northern Long-eared Bat||Myotis septentrionalis||2|
|Silver-haired Bat||Lasionycteris noctivagans||2|
|Water Shrew||Sorex palustris||2|
|Woodland Jumping Mouse||Napaeozapus insignis||2|
|Woodland Vole||Microtus pinetorum||2|
|American Marten||Martes americana||1|
|Prairie Vole||Microtus ochrogaster||1|
Natural community management opportunities
The Forest Transition Ecological Landscape contains opportunities to manage for the following natural communities, based on the findings in the Wildlife Action Plan (originally presented by the Ecosystem Management Team).
|Natural Community Type||Opportunity|
|Northern Mesic Forest||Major|
|Northern Wet Forest||Major|
|Northern Wet-mesic Forest||Major|
|Northern Dry-mesic Forest||Important|
|Northern Hardwood Swamp||Important|
|Northern Sedge Meadow||Important|
|Emergent Marsh - Wild Rice||Present|
|Southern Dry-mesic Forest||Present|
|Southern Mesic Forest||Present|
|Southern Sedge Meadow||Present|
Description of Terms Used to Define Opportunities for Protection, Restoration and/or Management of Natural Communities by Ecological Landscapes
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.
General management opportunities 1
Once almost completely forested, the Forest Transition's largest blocks of forests are now limited to certain areas. Portions of two large forested areas, the Lakewood-Laona District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) and the Menominee Indian Reservation, comprise the easternmost and most densely forested end of the landscape. These are largely mesic forests, and the forests of the Menominee Reservation have retained some old forest attributes, including large trees, coarse woody debris and multi-layered canopies. Unlike many other parts of Wisconsin, eastern hemlock remains abundant in some areas, and both it and northern white cedar can be found reproducing here. These forests provide important habitats that are rare or absent elsewhere and offer excellent opportunities for monitoring and research.
Roughly two hundred miles west of the Menominee Reservation, at the westernmost end of the landscape, forests also occur in large blocks. These very different forests are generally less contiguous and are largely dry-mesic. They can contain a strong red and white oak component, and scattered areas contain significant amounts of white pine. These forests offer opportunities to identify high conservation value areas, reduce fragmentation, are known to support rare forest interior birds and may be important for long-term monitoring since they can contain species at their northernmost range limits.
Much of this landscape is now quite open and dominated by intensive agricultural use. A few open areas of surrogate grassland (non-native grasses) and adjacent wetlands embedded within agricultural lands are large enough to support declining grassland birds, including the WI Threatened Greater Prairie Chicken. There are opportunities to maintain, enlarge and connect these habitats to better support area sensitive species. However, other open areas provide re-forestation opportunities to increase the size of forested blocks, provide habitat, improve water quality, reduce hard edge and help local economies over the long-term.
Protecting undeveloped lakes, ponds and streams is a major opportunity. Lakes and wetlands on the CNNF associated with the Green Bay Glacial Lobe can be somewhat calcareous, and some of these alkaline waters and wetlands support rare or otherwise unusual plants. The Polk County portion of the landscape contains numerous lakes associated with the St. Croix Moraine. Extensive wetlands, most of them forested, occur at the southern margins of several end moraines.
Maintaining intact river corridors is a major opportunity in the Forest Transition. A number of rivers cross the landscape from north to south, including the Wolf, Chippewa and St. Croix, all of which support high aquatic biodiversity and many rare species. Wetlands and forests forming the corridors of these rivers are used heavily by migratory birds and may be important for other species traveling between northern and southern Wisconsin. Habitats such as floodplain forest and marsh are better represented along the large rivers than elsewhere in the landscape.
Bedrock exposures, though localized and uncommon, can provide specialized habitats. Significant outcroppings of Precambrian rock in the Forest Transition include exposures of granites, quartzite and basalt as cliffs, glades and talus slopes in certain areas. Cambrian sandstone exposures occur at a few locations such as the south central part of the landscape.
1. The text presented here is a summarized version of a longer section developed for the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.
Forest Transition maps
Printable maps from the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.
- Finley's Vegetation of the Mid-1800s
- Land Cover of the Mid-1800's
- Landtype Associations (LTAs)
- Public Land Ownership, Easements and Private Land Enrolled in Forest Tax Programs
- Ecologically Significant Places
- Exceptional and Outstanding Resource Waters and 303(d) Degraded Waters (2010 Update)
- WISCLAND Land Cover (1992)
- Soil Regions
- Relative Tree Density in the Mid-1800s
- Population Density, Cities, and Transportation
Also see the statewide maps from the Ecological Landscapes Handbook.
Forest Transition Landtype Associations
Landtype Associations (LTAs) are units of the National Hierarchical Framework of Ecological Units (NHFEU), a hierarchical ecological land classification system. LTAs are much smaller than Ecological Landscapes, ranging in size from 10,000 and 300,000 acres. In Wisconsin, they are usually based on glacial features like individual moraines or outwash plains. LTAs can be very useful for planning at finer scales within an Ecological Landscape.
The following are the LTAs associated with the Forest Transition Ecological Landscape. The Forest Transition LTA map can be used to locate these LTAs. Clicking on an LTA in the list below will open a data table for that LTA in PDF format. Descriptions are included, where available.
- 212Qa04. Frederic Knolls
- 212Qa03. Polk Basalt Moraines
- 212Qb01. Poskin Moraines
- 212Qb02. Barron-Dobie Plains
- 212Qb04. Chetek Plains
- 212Qa02. Centuria Plains
- 212Qb03. Sumner Moraines
- 212Qc03. Merrill Outwash Plain
- 212Qc04. Antigo Flats
- 212Qb06. New Auburn Moraines
- 212Qa01. Late St. Croix Moraines
- 212Qd01. Ackley Plains
- 212Qc02. Medford-Hamburg Moraines
- 212Qc01. Abbotsford Moraines
- 212Qd05. DuBay Plains
- 212Qd02. Marathon Uplands
- 212Qb05. Greenwood Moraines
- 212Qb07. Mead Lake Eroded Moraines
- 212Qd04. Rib Mountain
- 212Qd07. Peplin Uplands
- 212Qd06. Mead Marsh
- 212Qd03. Milladore Uplands
- 212Ta01. Lakewood Plains and Moraines
- 212Ta03. Hatley Moraines
- 212Ta04. Upper Plover River Plains
- 212Ta06. Elderon-Bowler Drumlins and Moraines
- 212Ta07. Birnamwood-Rosholt Plains
- 212Ta08. Rabe Knolls
- 212Ta09. Neopit-Tilleda Plains and Drumlins
- 212Ta11. Stockbridge-Tigerton Plains
- 212Ta12. Ogdensburg Plains
- 212Ta13. Amherst -Waupaca Moraine Complex