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- Andy Stoltman
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape
Landscape at a Glance
|Physical & Biotic Environment|
2,004 square miles (1,282,877 acres), representing 3.6% of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.
Cold winters and warm summers are moderated by the thermal mass of Lake Michigan, especially in coastal areas. The mean growing season is 140 days, mean annual temperature is 42.8 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 32.1, and mean annual snowfall is 46 inches. Lake effect snow can be significant, especially along Lake Michigan. Rainfall and growing degree days are adequate to support agricultural row crops, small grains, hay and pastures. Warmer temperatures near Lake Michigan in fall and early winter and slightly cooler temperatures during spring and early summer are favorable for growing cherries, apples, and other fruits on the Door Peninsula.
Primarily underlain by Silurian dolomite but with some sandstone, also igneous and metamorphic rocks. Generally, the land is covered by a layer of soils of glacial origin; in some places, such as on the Door Peninsula and in the Grand Traverse Islands, the depth to bedrock is only a few feet or less from the surface.
Geology & Landforms
The Niagara Escarpment is a prominent bedrock ridge of Silurian dolomite that is exposed as cliffs and ledges along the western edge of the Door Peninsula and in the Grand Traverse Islands. The same bedrock is also exposed at many locations along the east side of the northern Door Peninsula, where it forms broad, nearly level bedrock shorelines. A broad, level lacustrine plain occurs in areas bordering the west shore of Green Bay, where an extensive delta has been created at the mouth of the Peshtigo River. Landforms along the Lake Michigan shore include beaches, dunes, baymouth bars, and complex ridge and swale topography. Embayment lakes and freshwater estuaries are also characteristic of the Lake Michigan shore. Elsewhere in this Ecological Landscape, ground moraine is the dominant landform.
Soils are diverse; in some areas, lacustrine sands are found overlying clays, or bedrock which is within a few feet of the surface. On the Door Peninsula soils are calcareous, typically stony loamy sands to loams. Shallow soils and exposures of dolomite bedrock are frequent near the Lake Michigan and Green Bay coasts. Poorly drained sands are common in the lake plain west of Green Bay and in depressions between dunes and beach ridges. Beyond the lake plain west of Green Bay, the ground moraine is composed mostly of moderately well-drained, rocky sandy loams, interspersed with lacustrine sands and clays. Peats and mucks are common along the west shore of Green Bay and in the northwestern part of the Ecological Landscape. There is an area of sandy soils between Stiles and Oconto Falls west of Green Bay. Chambers Island has "sandy, gravelly, clayey soils".
Lake Michigan is cold, deep, oligotrophic, and relatively clean; Green Bay, an estuary that is also the largest bay on Lake Michigan, is warm, shallow, productive, and dynamic. It has been heavily polluted, especially by industries that formerly dumped wastes into the Fox River at the head of the bay (which is within the Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape). The larger rivers that flow through this Ecological Landscape into Green Bay include the Menominee, Oconto, Peshtigo, and Pensaukee. These rivers and their tributaries drain the uplands west of Green Bay before passing through the extensive wetlands along Green Bay's west shore. Several large embayment lakes (e.g., Clark, Europe, and Kangaroo lakes) occur along the east side of the northern Door Peninsula. There are few large inland lakes. Several impoundments constructed on rivers west of Green Bay had been subjected to high levels of pollution from past industrial activity. On the Door Peninsula there have been serious groundwater contamination problems from agricultural pesticides and manure. These pollutants were able to reach the groundwater through the fractured dolomite bedrock. The lower Wolf River drains the westernmost part of this Ecological Landscape.
Historically, the uplands were almost entirely covered by forest. Today, more than 64% is non-forested. Most of this land is now in agricultural crops (51%), with smaller amounts of grassland (5.6%), non-forested wetlands (6.1%), shrubland 0.1%), and urbanized areas (0.8%). The most abundant cover type in the forested uplands (262,119 acres or 20.4% of the Ecological Landscape) is maple-basswood, with smaller amounts of aspen-birch. Forested wetlands (mostly lowland hardwoods, with some conifer swamps) cover slightly over 14% of the area. Other cover types are comparatively scarce but of high importance ecologically, and include maple-beech, hemlock-hardwoods, white pine, and mixtures of boreal conifers (dominants include white spruce-balsam fir-white pine-white cedar). Important non-forested wetland communities include marsh, sedge meadow, and shrub swamp.
(based on data from Marinette, Oconto, Shawano, and Door counties)
148,920, 2.7% of the state total
39 persons/ sq. mile
Per Capita Income
Important Economic Sectors
The largest employment sectors are: tourism-related (14.4%); manufacturing (non-wood) (13.4%), government (12.5%) and retail trade (9.3%) sectors in 2007. Although forestry, agriculture, and development do not have as large an impact on the economy or in the number of jobs they produce, they are the sectors that have the largest impact on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape.
Only about 3.5% of the Ecological Landscape is public land. Some of smaller islands are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for colonial nesting birds, as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. State ownership includes five state parks; four on the Door Peninsula and one in the Grand Traverse Islands, as well as lands administered and/or managed by the DNR's Wildlife Management, Fisheries, and State Natural Areas programs. Door County Parks owns several ecologically significant tracts along the Green Bay and Lake Michigan shores. An extensive area of county forest (Marinette and Oconto counties) occurs near the Green Bay west shore, and another is in the sandy area in Oconto County along the Oconto River. 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
The Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has a major conservation project on the Door Peninsula. There are several Land Trusts active in this area, and the Door County Land Trust has a number of active projects.
|Considerations for Planning & Management|
The ecosystems of Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and the West Shore wetlands have changed dramatically in a short period of just a few years in recent decades. Conservation plans must be highly adaptive, coordinated, and integrated. Increasing development, skyrocketing land prices, and increasing recreational pressure on a limited land base are placing serious constraints on conservation efforts on the Door Peninsula. Pollutants in Green Bay have created serious management problems, especially for fish and fish-eating birds, and by extension, potentially for humans. The shallow soils and fractured bedrock of the Door Peninsula and Grand Traverse Islands makes sustainable development and water management challenging and expensive. The rapid spread of invasive species over the past several decades is overwhelming managers and agency budgets and is exacerbated by the large number and high mobility of visitors (including tourists, and commercial ships from other parts of the world), especially to the Door Peninsula, Grand Traverse Islands, and Green Bay West Shore. Browse pressure from high populations of white-tailed deer is having negative impacts on many of the native ecosystems and plant communities in this Ecological Landscape, especially on the biologically-diverse Door Peninsula.
Species of Greatest Conservation Need
The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan.
|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|
|Canada Warbler||Wilsonia canadensis||3|
|Caspian Tern||Sterna caspia||3|
|Common Tern||Sterna hirundo||3|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||3|
|Field Sparrow||Spizella pusilla||3|
|Forster's Tern||Sterna forsteri||3|
|Great Egret||Ardea alba||3|
|Horned Grebe||Podiceps auritus||3|
|Hudsonian Godwit||Limosa haemastica||3|
|Least Flycatcher||Empidonax minimus||3|
|Lesser Scaup||Aythya affinis||3|
|Northern Goshawk||Accipiter gentilis||3|
|Northern Harrier||Circus cyaneus||3|
|Olive-sided Flycatcher||Contopus cooperi||3|
|Peregrine Falcon||Falco peregrinus||3|
|Red-headed Woodpecker||Melanerpes erythrocephalus||3|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Buteo lineatus||3|
|Short-billed Dowitcher||Limnodromus griseus||3|
|Upland Sandpiper||Bartramia longicauda||3|
|Vesper Sparrow||Pooecetes gramineus||3|
|Willow Flycatcher||Empidonax traillii||3|
|Wood Thrush||Hylocichla mustelina||3|
|American Bittern||Botaurus lentiginosus||2|
|Blue-winged Warbler||Vermivora pinus||2|
|Buff-breasted Sandpiper||Tryngites subruficollis||2|
|Golden-winged Warbler||Vermivora chrysoptera||2|
|Grasshopper Sparrow||Ammodramus savannarum||2|
|Henslow's Sparrow||Ammodramus henslowii||2|
|Loggerhead Shrike||Lanius ludovicianus||2|
|Marbled Godwit||Limosa fedoa||2|
|Piping Plover||Charadrius melodus||2|
|Rusty Blackbird||Euphagus carolinus||2|
|Snowy Egret||Egretta thula||2|
|Solitary Sandpiper||Tringa solitaria||2|
|Western Meadowlark||Sturnella neglecta||2|
|Yellow Rail||Coturnicops noveboracensis||2|
|Yellow-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus americanus||2|
|American Black Duck||Anas rubripes||1|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla||1|
|Trumpeter Swan||Cygnus buccinator||1|
|Banded Killifish||Fundulus diaphanus||3|
|Lake Sturgeon||Acipenser fulvescens||3|
|Shoal Chub (Speckled Chub)||Macrhybopsis hyostoma||3|
|Greater Redhorse||Moxostoma valenciennesi||2|
|Longear Sunfish||Lepomis megalotis||2|
|Pugnose Shiner||Notropis anogenus||2|
|Redfin Shiner||Lythrurus umbratilis||2|
|Western Sand Darter||Ammocrypta clara||2|
|American Eel||Anguilla rostrata||1|
|Skipjack Herring||Alosa chrysochloris||1|
|Reptiles and Amphibians||Score|
|Mink Frog||Rana septentrionalis||3|
|Wood Turtle||Glyptemys insculpta||3|
|Blanding's Turtle||Emydoidea blandingii||2|
|Four-toed Salamander||Hemidactylium scutatum||2|
|Pickerel Frog||Rana palustris||2|
|Northern Ribbon Snake||Thamnophis sauritus||1|
|Northern Flying Squirrel||Glaucomys sabrinus||3|
|Water Shrew||Sorex palustris||3|
|Eastern Red Bat||Lasiurus borealis||2|
|Gray Wolf||Canis lupus||2|
|Hoary Bat||Lasiurus cinereus||2|
|Northern Long-eared Bat||Myotis septentrionalis||2|
|Silver-haired Bat||Lasionycteris noctivagans||2|
|Woodland Jumping Mouse||Napaeozapus insignis||2|
|Woodland Vole||Microtus pinetorum||1|
Natural community management opportunities
The Northern Lake Michigan Coastal 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).
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
The Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape borders Lake Michigan and Green Bay, encompassing over 200 miles of Great Lakes coast. The shorelines and related habitats, some of them unique to the Great Lakes, are used during the spring and fall by large numbers of migratory birds. In recent years, tens of thousands of diving ducks have been recorded wintering in offshore Lake Michigan habitats. Both Lake Michigan and Green Bay are highly significant for fish.
Large rookeries of colonial fish-eating birds occur on islands in Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Green Bay's low-lying west shore features extensive wetlands of marsh, sedge meadow, shrub swamp and hardwood swamp. The remnant conifer-hardwood forests on the Door Peninsula's margins support diverse populations of breeding birds and are also heavily used by many migrants.
The northern Door Peninsula and associated Grand Traverse Islands present conservation opportunities offered nowhere else in Wisconsin. Unusual physiographic features such as ridge and swale complexes, embayment lakes and freshwater estuaries are rich in rare natural communities, including beach, dune, bedrock shore, coastal fen and boreal forest. These, in turn, support one of Wisconsin's greatest concentrations of rare species, some of them endemic to Great Lakes shoreline environments.
The dolomite Niagara Escarpment is a dominant geological feature of this landscape. On the west side of the Door Peninsula the Escarpment is exposed as cliffs, ledges and talus slopes. Springs and seeps are present, and some of Wisconsin's oldest trees grow on the Escarpment. To the east, along Lake Michigan, the same bedrock forms extensive horizontal rock "beaches."
Scattered features of ecological importance include a stretch of the Menominee River at the northern edge of the landscape; a concentration of rich conifer swamps in the poorly drained terrain east and north of Lake Noquebay; extensive dry forests of aspen, oak and pine on sandy soils in southern Oconto County; warmwater rivers and streams entering Green Bay from the west; and the northernmost stretch of the Lower Wolf River.
Management opportunities vary greatly in different parts of the Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape because of its variability. The factors responsible for this include the past and present influence of Lake Michigan and Green Bay, the dolomite bedrock, the composition of the glacial till and the highly variable landforms and their effects on land use. Because of this heterogeneity, Landtype Associations, which are fully described in the handbook chapter on the Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape, can be helpful in identifying, describing and framing management opportunities in greater detail at appropriate locations and at larger scales in this landscape.
1. The text presented here is a summarized version of a longer section developed for the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal maps
Printable maps from the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook. These maps are in PDF format and will open in a new window.
- 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.
Northern Lake Michigan Coastal 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 Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. The Northern Lake Michigan Coastal 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.
- 212Te10. Marinette Plains
- 212Tf03. Algoma Moraines
- 212Tf05. Nasewaupee Moraines
- 212Tf06. Whitefish Beach
- 212Tf07. Door Peninsula
- 212Ob03. Chambers Islands
- 212Ob02. Washington Islands
- 212Tb05. Pulaski Moraines
- 212Tb06. Frostville Moraines
- 212Tb07. Coleman Drumlins
- 212Tb08. Marion Drumlins
- 212Tb09. Thornton Moraines
- 212Tb12. McAllister Drumlins
- 212Tb15. Stephenson Drumlins
- 212Tb27. Sobieski Plains
- 212Tb28. Brookside Moraines