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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

Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape

Download the Southern Lake Michigan Coastal chapter [PDF] of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin. This chapter provides a detailed assessment of the ecological and socioeconomic conditions for the Southern Lake Michigan Coastal. 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


843 square miles (539,830 acres). 1.5% of the area of the state.


The climate is moderated by Lake Michigan. The mean growing season is 169 days and the mean annual temperature is 47.2deg. F, the longest and warmest of any Ecological Landscape in the state. The mean annual precipitation is 34 inches, the second most precipitation in the state. The mean annual snowfall is 41.9 inches similar to other southern Ecological Landscapes. Lake effect snows occur in areas adjacent to Lake Michigan. The climate (temperature, growing degree days, and precipitation) is suitable for agricultural row crops, small grains, and pastures, which are prevalent land uses in the non-urbanized parts of this Ecological Landscape.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Predominately Silurian dolomite, generally covered by deposits of glacial drift from 50 to over 100 feet in depth.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

Inland the primary landform is level to gently rolling ground moraine. Near Lake Michigan, landforms include subdued ridge and swale topography, beach and dune complexes, and wave-cut clay bluffs. The river mouths within large cities have all been heavily modified.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


In the uplands, soils are primarily moderately well drained brown calcareous silty clay loam till. In the lowlands, soils are primarily very poorly drained non-acid mucks or silty and clayey lacustrine types.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Lake Michigan is the dominant aquatic feature; 26 named lakes (>5,000 total acres); around 1,500 unnamed lakes (most of these are very small ponds, as these waterbodies total only around 1800 acres). Important rivers include the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, Root, Des Plaines, Southeast Fox, and Pike. 4% of the Ecological Landscape is open wetland.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

This is the most urbanized Ecological Landscape in state. Primarily agricultural (39%) and urban (24%), with 16% grassland and 12% upland and lowland forest.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine county.)


1,278,572, 23.8% of the state total

Population Density

1,655 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

These include service-based sectors (education services, administration and support services, health care and social services, transportation, and arts, entertainment, and recreation) and some resource based sectors (manufacturing, utilities, agriculture, and secondary wood products). Federal, state, county and town governments all have offices in this Ecological Landscape. Agriculture and urbanization are having the largest impacts on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape.

Public Ownership

Public ownership is very low, encompassing only 1.1% of the Ecological Landscape. State-owned lands include Bong Recreation Area, Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area (in part), several Wildlife Areas and other Natural Areas. Milwaukee County has an extensive park system, and small amounts of county-owned land occur in Racine and Kenosha counties. UW-Parkside has stewardship responsibilities for several tracts in Kenosha County. 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

Several designated State Natural Areas, such as Silver Lake Bog and Renak-Polak Maple-Beech Woods, remain in private ownership, Seminary Woods in Milwaukee County. The Wisconsin Chapter of the Nature Conservancy is active at Chiwaukee Prairie in Kenosha County, and at several other sites in the Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

This is the most highly populated and heavily developed Ecological Landscape in the state. It has long been a hub of transportation, heavy industry, and commerce, as well as a productive agricultural area, resulting in large and long-term impacts to the land and water. Natural systems are severely fragmented and disturbed by widespread and intensive agricultural, industrial, and residential development. Ongoing development may increase land values, taxes, and costs of public services. All of the formerly extensive plant community groups - forests, savannas, prairies, and wetlands - have been greatly reduced from their historical abundance. Most natural community remnants are small and isolated, occurring within a context of lands and waters that are now dedicated to supporting residential, industrial, and agricultural uses. Invasive species are a major problem here, more so than in other Ecological Landscapes. Wetland and aquatic systems have been significantly diminished or degraded, often leading to serious water management issues that are difficult and expensive to fix. Despite all of the development that has occurred, this Ecological Landscape still supports rare and declining species and communities that occur at few other locations. A 1990s critical features inventory planned and conducted by SEWRPC (1997) and Wisconsin DNR identified more than 18,000 acres of high quality remnant natural communities and critical species habitats throughout a seven county area, including the entire Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. Several counties have extensive systems of parklands and green spaces, and conservation-oriented groups dedicated to a wide array of interests, including land stewardship, are well-established and active. Stream restoration has attracted great local support. There may be significant opportunities to re-vegetate areas, especially brownfields, not as natural communities, but to serve as surrogate habitats for wildlife. Urban forestry is important here and could represent ecological as well as socio-economic opportunities.  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 Southern Lake Michigan Coastal 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."
Black TernChlidonias niger3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum3
Buff-breasted SandpiperTryngites subruficollis3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
DunlinCalidris alpina3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Field SparrowSpizella pusilla3
Forster's TernSterna forsteri3
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii3
Horned GrebePodiceps auritus3
Lesser ScaupAythya affinis3
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus3
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus3
Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax traillii3
Wood ThrushHylocichla mustelina3
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
American WoodcockScolopax minor2
Bell's VireoVireo bellii2
Black-billed CuckooCoccyzus erythropthalmus2
Blue-winged TealAnas discors2
Blue-winged WarblerVermivora pinus2
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum2
Hudsonian GodwitLimosa haemastica2
King RailRallus elegans2
Marbled GodwitLimosa fedoa2
Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus2
Piping PloverCharadrius melodus2
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Solitary SandpiperTringa solitaria2
Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus2
Yellow-crowned Night-HeronNyctanassa violacea2
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens1
American Golden PloverPluvialis dominica1
Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus1
Barn OwlTyto alba1
Black-throated Blue WarblerDendroica caerulescens1
Canada WarblerWilsonia canadensis1
CanvasbackAythya valisineria1
Caspian TernSterna caspia1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus1
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
OspreyPandion haliaetus1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda1
VeeryCatharus fuscescens1
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Striped ShinerLuxilus chrysocephalus3
Greater RedhorseMoxostoma valenciennesi2
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens2
American EelAnguilla rostrata1
Banded KillifishFundulus diaphanus1
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta1
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca1
Longear SunfishLepomis megalotis1
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Reptiles and AmphibiansScore
MudpuppyNecturus maculosus3
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum1
Pickerel FrogRana palustris1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Franklin's Ground SquirrelSpermophilus franklinii3
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster2
Eastern Red BatLasiurus borealis1
Hoary BatLasiurus cinereus1
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis1
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans1
Water ShrewSorex palustris1
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum1

Community opportunities

Natural community management opportunities

The Southern Lake Michigan Coastal 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

The Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape is the most highly populated and heavily developed Ecological Landscape in the state. Most ecosystems here are severely fragmented and disturbed by widespread and intensive agricultural, industrial and residential development. Nevertheless, this landscape provides some significant management opportunities.

Millions of citizens depend on Lake Michigan for a wide array of ecosystem services, economic uses and social amenities. The lake, its shoreline habitats and its near-shore waters support a unique complex of natural features and are of especially high significance to migratory birds and fish. Management and protection of Lake Michigan and its surroundings is both ecologically and economically important.

Coastal prairies, a rarity in Wisconsin, are now restricted to a single location in the extreme southeastern corner of the state. Chiwaukee Prairie is one of the Upper Midwest's premier coastal wetland complexes featuring prairies. It is the only Wisconsin example of a Great Lakes-influenced coastal wetland composed mostly of tallgrass prairie and fen, and it includes one of Wisconsin's largest and most diverse occurrences of Wet-mesic Prairie. The site is globally significant and harbors numerous rare species, including plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals. It is adjacent to other significant conservation lands just to the south, in northern Illinois. This and other areas in the southeast corner of the landscape offer good opportunities for continued protection and management.

Large Surrogate Grasslands and embedded prairie, sedge meadow and marsh community remnants at sites such as Bong State Recreation Area are important ecologically and for recreation. There may be opportunities to manage agricultural lands adjoining these areas in ways that would increase the amount of suitable habitat for area-sensitive grassland animals, while buffering remnant prairie, meadow, marsh, forest, or other native vegetation.

Restoration and management of major river and stream corridors is a major ecological and socio-economic priority, including the protection and restoration of their hydrological function and riparian corridors. Important rivers and streams here include the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, Des Plaines and Root. Inland lakes, despite their generally developed condition, widespread water quality problems and significant habitat losses, continue to provide habitat for native fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. Many birds and a few mammals are also strongly associated with and, in some cases, dependent on these lakes.

Natural communities here often occur as small, scattered, isolated patches. Wherever possible, the least disturbed and most intact remnants should be embedded within larger management units or corridors of natural cover or greenspace.

Significant portions of this ecological landscape are in urban or other residential development. Use of green infrastructure concepts can help improve the area's residential appeal, lessen the urban "heat sink" effect and contribute to water infiltration, wildlife habitat and other ecological benefits. Urban forestry may also help sequester carbon and improve human habitat.

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


Southern 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 Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. The Southern Lake Michigan Coastal 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