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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

Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape

Download the Southeast Glacial Plains chapter [PDF] of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin. This chapter provides a detailed assessment of the ecological and socioeconomic conditions for the Southeast Glacial Plains. 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


7,725 square miles (4,943,731 acres), representing 13.8% of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.


Typical of southern Wisconsin; mean growing season of 155 days, mean annual temperature is 45.9 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 33.6 inches, and mean annual snowfall is 39.4 inches. The climate is suitable for agricultural row crops, small grains, and pastures, which are prevalent in this Ecological Landscape.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Primarily underlain by limestone and dolomite with some sandstone and shale. Generally covered by a thick layer of glacial deposits (>50 feet). The southernmost exposures of the Silurian dolomite "Niagara Escarpment" occur west and south of Lake Winnebago.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

The dominant landforms are glacial till plains and moraines composed mostly of materials deposited during the Wisconsin Ice Age, but the southwestern part of the Ecological Landscape consists of older, pre-Wisconsin till and the topography is more dissected. Other glacial landforms, including drumlins, outwash plains, eskers, kames and kettles are also well-represented kames, eskers, and kettles. The "Kettle Moraine" is an area of rough topography on the eastern side of the Southeast Glacial Plains that marks the areas of contact between the Green Bay and Lake Michigan glacial lobes. Numerous excellent examples of glacial features occur and are highly visible in the Kettle Moraine.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Soils are derived from lime-rich tills overlain in most areas by a silt-loam loess cap.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


The Southeast Glacial Plains has the highest aquatic productivity for plants, insects, other invertebrates, and fish of any Ecological Landscape in the state. Significant river systems include the Wolf, Bark, Rock, Fox, Milwaukee, Sugar, Mukwonago, and Sheboygan. Most riparian zones have been degraded. Several clusters of large lakes exist, including the Yahara chain of lakes in and around Madison, and the Lake Winnebago Pool system. Kettle lakes occur within end moraines, in outwash channels, and in ancient riverbeds. This Ecological Landscape contains some huge marshes, as well as fens, sedge meadows, wet prairies, tamarack swamps, and floodplain forests. Many wetlands here have been affected by hydrologic modifications (ditching, diking, tiling), grazing, infestations of invasive plants, and excessive inputs of sediment- and nutrient-laden runoff from croplands.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Primarily agricultural cropland (58% of Landscape). Remaining forests occupy only 11% of the land area and major covertypes include maple-basswood, oak, lowland hardwoods, and conifer swamps (mostly tamarack-dominated). No large areas of upland forest exist except on the Kettle Interlobate Moraine, where the topography is too rugged to practice intensive agriculture and the soils are not always conducive to high crop productivity. Wetlands are extensive (12% of Landscape, 593,248 acres) and include large marshes and sedge meadows, and extensive forested lowlands within the Lower Wolf River floodplain. Forested lowlands are also significant along stretches of the Milwaukee, Sugar, and Rock rivers.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Calumet, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Jefferson, Ozaukee, Rock, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, and Winnebago counties)


1,519,000, 28.5% of the state total

Population Density

204 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

Manufacturing (non-wood) (13.9% v. statewide 11.7%); Government (12.6% v. statewide: 12.1%); Tourism-related (10.6% vs. statewide: 11.2%); Retail trade (9.2% v. statewide: 9.0%) sectors employed the most people in 2007 reflecting high non-wood manufacturing and government service. Although agriculture, residential development (and urbanization) and forestry do not have a large impact on the economy or the number of jobs, they are the sectors that have the largest impact on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape (in recent years groundwater withdrawals by municipalities to accommodate urban-industrial growth have raised concerns about protecting our water supplies, as well as lakes, stream, and wetlands).

Public Ownership

Only four percent of the Southeast Glacial Plains is in public ownership (226,230 acres), of which 58% is wetland and 42% is upland. Major public lands include Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and Horicon State Wildlife Area, and the Northern and Southern Units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Other state lands here are managed for fish, wildlife, natural areas, and recreation. The Cedarburg Bog, an extensive wetland complex in southeastern Wisconsin, is owned by the University of Wisconsin system and the Wisconsin DNR. County-owned lands are not extensive but include ecologically significant features, including several ecologically important stretches of the Niagara Escarpment. A map entitled "Public Land Ownership and Private land enrolled in the Forest Tax Programs in the Southeast Glacial Plains" can be found at the end of this chapter.

Other Notable Ownerships

The Nature Conservancy, in cooperation with the Wisconsin DNR and others, has a major project designed to protect the Mukwonago River watershed (including Lulu Lake) in the southeastern part of the Ecological Landscape. The Waukesha County Land Conservancy has several active projects aimed at protecting lands of high ecological significance. Other NGOs, including the Madison Audubon Society and groups active in local preservation efforts in other counties, also have active conservation projects in the Southeast Glacial Plains.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

The Southeast Glacial Plains is heavily developed and highly populated. Pressure on natural resources, including ground and surface waters, is high and unlikely to diminish in the short-term. The amount of impervious surface is increasing in some watersheds, raising concerns about our ability to protect sensitive aquatic life and associated wetlands. Fragmentation is severe and isolation of native habitats is a major concern. Many invasive species are now widespread, well established, and have expanding populations here. Public ownership is limited and partnerships between public and private partners will be essential to accomplish long-term management goals and objectives for natural resources.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has conducted biological inventories for the seven counties in which they have jurisdiction and identified important natural areas and sensitive species populations; all seven of the SEWRPC counties are at least partially located within the Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape. The Wisconsin DNR has also conducted biological inventory work throughout the Southeast Glacial Plains

While in general reconnecting isolated habitat patches is a positive, and ultimately often necessary, action, when habitats lacking invasives are identified planners and other stakeholders need to be sure be sure that pathways for colonization by invasive species have not been created or increased, and that control measures for both existing and future problems created by these species are anticipated and built into management plans and the budgeting process.

For the two units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, and at some of the larger wetland complexes (such as those at Horicon, along the Lower Wolf River, Sugar, and Milwaukee rivers, or in the Mukwonago River Watershed, planning at large scales will have many benefits to best ensure long-term viability of the resources present, as those areas offer many opportunities that smaller more isolated sites cannot.  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 Southeast Glacial Plains 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."
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens3
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus3
American Golden PloverPluvialis dominica3
American WoodcockScolopax minor3
Black TernChlidonias niger3
Black-billed CuckooCoccyzus erythropthalmus3
Blue-winged TealAnas discors3
Blue-winged WarblerVermivora pinus3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum3
Buff-breasted SandpiperTryngites subruficollis3
Buff-breasted SandpiperTryngites subruficollis3
CanvasbackAythya valisineria3
Cerulean WarblerDendroica cerulea3
Common TernSterna hirundo3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
DunlinCalidris alpina3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Field SparrowSpizella pusilla3
Forster's TernSterna forsteri3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii3
Hooded WarblerWilsonia citrina3
Hudsonian GodwitLimosa haemastica3
King RailRallus elegans3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Lesser ScaupAythya affinis3
Louisiana WaterthrushSeiurus motacilla3
Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus3
Prothonotary WarblerProtonotaria citrea3
RedheadAythya americana3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Red-necked GrebePodiceps grisegena3
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus3
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus3
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta3
Whooping CraneGrus americana3
Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax traillii3
Wood ThrushHylocichla mustelina3
Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus3
Bell's VireoVireo bellii2
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera2
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus2
Marbled GodwitLimosa fedoa2
Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus2
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus2
Snowy EgretEgretta thula2
Solitary SandpiperTringa solitaria2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
VeeryCatharus fuscescens2
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus2
Whip-poor-willCaprimulgus vociferus2
Wilson's PhalaropePhalaropus tricolor2
Yellow-crowned Night-HeronNyctanassa violacea2
Yellow-throated WarblerDendroica dominica2
American Black DuckAnas rubripes1
Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus1
Barn OwlTyto alba1
Black-throated Blue WarblerDendroica caerulescens1
Canada WarblerWilsonia canadensis1
Horned GrebePodiceps auritus1
Kentucky WarblerOporornis formosus1
OspreyPandion haliaetus1
Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra1
Trumpeter SwanCygnus buccinator1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Gravel ChubErimystax x-punctatus3
Greater RedhorseMoxostoma valenciennesi3
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta3
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca3
Longear SunfishLepomis megalotis3
Ozark MinnowNotropis nubilus3
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis3
Redside DaceClinostomus elongatus3
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum3
Slender MadtomNoturus exilis3
Starhead TopminnowFundulus dispar3
Banded KillifishFundulus diaphanus2
Black BuffaloIctiobus niger2
Pugnose ShinerNotropis anogenus2
Western Sand DarterAmmocrypta clara2
American EelAnguilla rostrata1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Reptiles and AmphibiansScore
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum3
Pickerel FrogRana palustris3
MudpuppyNecturus maculosus2
Northern Cricket FrogAcris crepitans1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Franklin's Ground SquirrelSpermophilus franklinii3
Eastern Red BatLasiurus borealis2
Hoary BatLasiurus cinereus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum2
Water ShrewSorex palustris1

Community opportunities

Natural community management opportunities

The Southeast Glacial Plains 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

Although large portions of the Southeast Glacial Plains are now intensively developed agricultural or urban-industrial lands, there are major opportunities to maintain natural communities and provide critical habitat for many native species. Opportunities for managing on a larger scale are limited to a few areas.

The Kettle Moraine region features the least developed uplands in the entire landscape, much of it within the units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest (KMSF). Collectively, the KMSF arguably comprises the largest and most ecologically important public landholding in this part of the state. The Northern Unit of the KMSF features extensive upland forests, conifer and ash swamps, lakes, springs, marshes, Ephemeral Ponds and significant stretches of the Milwaukee River and its tributaries. This area is now southeastern Wisconsin's major breeding site for forest interior species, especially birds. There are opportunities here to develop, maintain and enlarge blocks of contiguous forested habitat that include large patches of older mesic and oak-dominated forests, patches of young forest, dense brush and areas where high contrast edge has been reduced.

The Southern Unit of the KMSF is a major repository of rare and diminished natural communities, especially oak savannas and woodlands, wet prairies, fens, sedge meadows and relict bogs. Each of these is a high priority for conservation because they are rare on state or global levels, include the best remaining occurrences and/or support many rare native plants and animals. Wisconsin's largest native grassland protection and restoration project, the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, is located within the KMSF - Southern Unit. Fire suppression, successional processes and tree planting have created blocks of forest in the Southern Unit of the KMSF that are now large enough to provide critical nesting habitat for forest interior species. Determining where to maintain such semi-natural habitats versus where to actively restore the globally rare savanna and woodland communities can be challenging and controversial, even where the protection and maintenance of biodiversity is a primary management objective.

Some wetlands in the Southeast Glacial Plains are large, in good condition and provide critical habitat for a host of sensitive species including large populations of breeding and migratory waterbirds, as well as other wetland inhabitants. Emergent marsh (including Horicon Marsh, the Upper Midwest's largest cat-tail marsh) is especially well-represented, but sedge meadow, calcareous fen, wet prairie and tamarack swamp are also important. The large complex of sedge meadow, marsh and wet prairie associated with the White and Puchyan rivers is also outstanding in terms of size and quality. The Lower Wolf River corridor features the most extensive forested floodplain in eastern Wisconsin and one of the largest emergent marshes.

The Mukwonago River watershed is the most intact watershed in this Ecological Landscape, as it features a spring-fed river system supporting a high diversity of fishes and aquatic invertebrates, extensive and floristically rich wetlands and is associated with remnant rare natural communities such as tallgrass prairie, calcareous fen, oak openings, oak woodland and relict bogs. Many rare species have been documented here. Private and public partners are working to protect, manage and restore many components of this watershed.

Lakes are concentrated in several areas, sometimes in association with end moraines, other times occupying glacial lakebeds and outwash channels. Shallow lakes are well-represented, and some of these are associated with extensive wetlands of marsh, sedge meadow and shrub-carr. Noteworthy warmwater streams include the Wolf, Mukwonago (some of the upper stretches are classified as "Coolwater"), Rock, Crawfish, Sugar, Milwaukee and Bark rivers. Most lakes here are now heavily developed.

Miscellaneous features of significance include southern Wisconsin's westernmost stands of mesic maple-beech forest, hardwood swamps, bog relicts and scattered surrogate grasslands. The southern extremities of the Niagara Escarpment occur here and provide habitat for rare invertebrates and plants, as well as the largest bat hibernaculum in the Upper Midwest.

1. The text presented here is a summarized version of a longer section developed for the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.


Southeast Glacial Plains 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 Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape. The Southeast Glacial Plains 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