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Map showing the Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape
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For information on Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes, contact:
Andy Stoltman

Forest Transition Ecological Landscape

Download the Forest Transition chapter [PDF] of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin. This chapter provides a detailed assessment of the ecological and socioeconomic conditions for the Forest Transition. It also identifies important planning and management considerations and suggests management opportunities that are compatible with the ecology of the landscape. The tabs below provide additional information.

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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Major river systems draining this Ecological Landscape include the Wolf, Wisconsin, Black, Chippewa, and St. Croix.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(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

Population Density

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.

Public Ownership

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.

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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.  Learn more about management opportunities from the chapter [PDF]

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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 Wisconsin's 2005 Wildlife Action Plan.

Note: The information presented here comes from the 2005 Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan. The 2015 revision has been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. Our website content will be updated when the plan has been approved.

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus3
American Golden PloverPluvialis dominica3
American WoodcockScolopax minor3
Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus3
Black TernChlidonias niger3
Black-billed CuckooCoccyzus erythropthalmus3
Black-throated Blue WarblerDendroica caerulescens3
Blue-winged TealAnas discors3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Field SparrowSpizella pusilla3
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera3
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Lesser ScaupAythya affinis3
Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus3
OspreyPandion haliaetus3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus3
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus3
Trumpeter SwanCygnus buccinator3
VeeryCatharus fuscescens3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Whip-poor-willCaprimulgus vociferus3
Wood ThrushHylocichla mustelina3
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens2
Blue-winged WarblerVermivora pinus2
Buff-breasted SandpiperTryngites subruficollis2
Canada WarblerWilsonia canadensis2
CanvasbackAythya valisineria2
Cerulean WarblerDendroica cerulea2
DickcisselSpiza americana2
DunlinCalidris alpina2
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum2
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii2
Hooded WarblerWilsonia citrina2
Hudsonian GodwitLimosa haemastica2
Le Conte's SparrowAmmodramus leconteii2
Louisiana WaterthrushSeiurus motacilla2
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Solitary SandpiperTringa solitaria2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta2
Yellow RailCoturnicops noveboracensis2
Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus2
Barn OwlTyto alba1
Black-backed WoodpeckerPicoides arcticus1
Horned GrebePodiceps auritus1
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Marbled GodwitLimosa fedoa1
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi1
Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra1
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus1
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus1
Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax traillii1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Black RedhorseMoxostoma duquesnei3
Ozark MinnowNotropis nubilus3
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis3
Redside DaceClinostomus elongatus2
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta1
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens1
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca1
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Reptiles and AmphibiansScore
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum3
MudpuppyNecturus maculosus2
Pickerel FrogRana palustris2
Mink FrogRana septentrionalis1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Eastern Red BatLasiurus borealis3
Franklin's Ground SquirrelSpermophilus franklinii2
Gray WolfCanis lupus2
Hoary BatLasiurus cinereus2
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Water ShrewSorex palustris2
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis2
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum2
American MartenMartes americana1
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster1

Community opportunities

Natural community management opportunities

The Forest Transition Ecological Landscape contains opportunities to manage for the following natural communities, based on the findings in the 2005 Wildlife Action Plan (originally presented by the Ecosystem Management Team).

Note: The information presented here comes from the 2005 Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan. The 2015 revision has been submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. Our website content will be updated when the plan has been approved.

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 opportunities

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.


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 [PDF] 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.

Last Revised: January 23, 2012
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition