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- Andy Stoltman
North Central Forest Ecological Landscape
Landscape at a Glance
|Physical & Biotic Environment|
9,543 square miles (6,107,516 acres), representing 17.1% of the total land area of the state.
Typical of northern Wisconsin, mean growing season in the North Central Forest is 115 days, the shortest growing season of all Ecological Landscapes in the state. The mean annual temperature is 40.3 deg. F. Summer temperatures can be cold or freezing at night in the low-lying areas, limiting the occurrence of some biota. The mean annual precipitation is 32.3 inches and the mean annual snowfall is 63 inches. However, heavier snowfall can occur closer to Lake Superior, especially in the northwestern part of the Ecological Landscape in the topographically higher Penokee-Gogebic Iron Range. The cool temperatures and short growing season are not conducive to supporting agricultural row crops such as corn in most parts of the Ecological Landscape. Only six percent of the North Central Forest is in agricultural use. The climate is especially favorable for the growth of forests, which cover roughly 75% of the Ecological Landscape.
Predominantly igneous and metamorphic rock, generally covered by 5 to 100 feet of glacial drift deposits.
Geology & Landforms
Landforms are characterized by end and ground moraines with some pitted outwash and bedrock-controlled areas. Kettle depressions and steep ridges are found in the northern portion of the North Central Forest. Two prominent areas here are the Penokee-Gogebic Iron Range in the north (which extends into Upper Michigan), and Timm's Hill, the highest point in Wisconsin (at 1,951 feet) in the south. Drumlins are important landforms in some parts of the North Central Forest.
Soils consist of sandy loams, sands, and silts. Organic soils, peats and mucks, are common in poorly drained lowlands.
Rivers, streams, and springs are common and found throughout this Ecological Landscape. Major rivers include the Wisconsin, Chippewa, Flambeau, Jump, Wolf, Pine, Popple, and Peshtigo. Large lakes include Namekagon, Courte Oreilles, Owen, Round, Butternut, North Twin, Metonga, Pelican, Pine, Kentuck, Pickerel, and Lucerne. Several large man-made flowages occur here such as the Chippewa, Turtle-Flambeau, Gile, Pine, and Mondeaux. There are several localized but significant concentrations of glacial kettle lakes associated with end and recessional moraines (e.g., the Perkinstown, Bloomer, Winegar, Birchwood Lakes, and Valhalla/Marenisco Moraines.) In southern Ashland and Bayfield counties, the concentrations of lakes are associated with till plains or outwash over till. Lakes here are due to dense till holding up the water table. Rare lake types in the North Central Forest include marl and meromictic lakes.
Forests cover approximately 75% of this Ecological Landscape. The mesic northern hardwood forest is dominant, made up of sugar maple, basswood, and red maple, with some stands containing scattered hemlock, yellow birch, and/or white pine pockets. The aspen-birch forest type group is also abundant, followed by spruce-fir (most of the spruce-fir is lowland conifers on acid peat – not upland "boreal" forest). Forested and non-forested wetland communities are common and widespread. These include Northern Wet-mesic Forest (dominated by either northern white cedar or black ash), Northern Wet Forest (acid conifer swamps dominated by black spruce and/or tamarack), non-forested acid peatlands (bogs, fens, and muskegs), alder thicket, sedge meadow, and marsh (including wild rice marshes) are widespread in the North Central Forest.
(based on data from Bayfield, Washburn, Rusk, Sawyer, Chippewa, Iron, Ashland, Price, Taylor, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest and Florence counties)
244,782, 4.4% of the state total
19 persons/ sq. mile
Per Capita Income
Important Economic Sectors
Government, tourism-related, manufacturing (non-wood) and retail trade sectors in 2002 reflecting high government and tourism-related dependence. Although forestry does not have a large impact on the number of jobs it produces, it is the sector that has the largest impact on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape.
42% is publicly owned, mostly by federal, state or county governments. Federal ownership includes the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. State ownership includes the 90,000 acre Flambeau River State Forest and several other large properties, including the Kimberly-Clark Wildlife Area. Counties in or partially within the North Central Forest with large County Forests include: Ashland, Bayfield, Chippewa, Florence, Forest, Iron, Langlade, Lincoln, Oneida, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, and Washburn counties. 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 (TNC) has several major projects in the North Central Forest, in northern Vilas County, and at Catherine Lake in Ashland-Iron counties. TNC has also partnered with the WDNR, the USFS, and various private groups on various research, land use planning, and protection projects, including one in the Pine-Popple Watershed (in part to remedy poorly sited or constructed stream crossings or culverts that act as barriers to the movement of aquatic life) in the eastern part of the Ecological Landscape. Native American lands include the Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, and Potawatomi Reservations.
|Considerations for Planning & Management|
One of the major considerations in the North Central Forest is clarification of the roles played by and ecological relationships among public, private, industrial, and tribal lands from a conservation, socioeconomic, and recreational perspectives. In recent years there has been documentation of widespread negative impacts to forests from: excessive deer browse; invasive earthworms, insects, plants and pathogens; divestitures of large private holdings (especially estates and industrial forests); increased parcelization; and the development of shoreline habitats. Other important factors to consider include: the potential implications of climate change; ecological impacts of increased biomass harvest; forest type conversions; forest simplification and homogenization; and the need to develop ecologically appropriate and economically viable restoration methods for mesic forests.
Species of Greatest Conservation Need
The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the North Central Forest Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan.
|American Bittern||Botaurus lentiginosus||3|
|American Woodcock||Scolopax minor||3|
|Bald Eagle||Haliaeetus leucocephalus||3|
|Black-backed Woodpecker||Picoides arcticus||3|
|Black-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus erythropthalmus||3|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||Dendroica caerulescens||3|
|Boreal Chickadee||Poecile hudsonica||3|
|Canada Warbler||Wilsonia canadensis||3|
|Golden-winged Warbler||Vermivora chrysoptera||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|
|Red Crossbill||Loxia curvirostra||3|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Buteo lineatus||3|
|Spruce Grouse||Falcipennis canadensis||3|
|Trumpeter Swan||Cygnus buccinator||3|
|Wood Thrush||Hylocichla mustelina||3|
|Black Tern||Chlidonias niger||2|
|Brown Thrasher||Toxostoma rufum||2|
|Cerulean Warbler||Dendroica cerulea||2|
|Connecticut Warbler||Oporornis agilis||2|
|Rusty Blackbird||Euphagus carolinus||2|
|Sharp-tailed Grouse||Tympanuchus phasianellus||2|
|Solitary Sandpiper||Tringa solitaria||2|
|American Black Duck||Anas rubripes||1|
|American Golden Plover||Pluvialis dominica||1|
|Blue-winged Teal||Anas discors||1|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||1|
|Field Sparrow||Spizella pusilla||1|
|Grasshopper Sparrow||Ammodramus savannarum||1|
|Henslow's Sparrow||Ammodramus henslowii||1|
|Horned Grebe||Podiceps auritus||1|
|Hudsonian Godwit||Limosa haemastica||1|
|Loggerhead Shrike||Lanius ludovicianus||1|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla||1|
|Marbled Godwit||Limosa fedoa||1|
|Red-headed Woodpecker||Melanerpes erythrocephalus||1|
|Short-billed Dowitcher||Limnodromus griseus||1|
|Upland Sandpiper||Bartramia longicauda||1|
|Vesper Sparrow||Pooecetes gramineus||1|
|Western Meadowlark||Sturnella neglecta||1|
|Willow Flycatcher||Empidonax traillii||1|
|Yellow-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus americanus||1|
|Gilt Darter||Percina evides||3|
|Lake Sturgeon||Acipenser fulvescens||3|
|Longear Sunfish||Lepomis megalotis||3|
|Greater Redhorse||Moxostoma valenciennesi||2|
|Banded Killifish||Fundulus diaphanus||1|
|Least Darter||Etheostoma microperca||1|
|Pugnose Shiner||Notropis anogenus||1|
|Redside Dace||Clinostomus elongatus||1|
|Shortjaw Cisco||Coregonus zenithicus||1|
|Reptiles and Amphibians||Score|
|Boreal Chorus Frog||Pseudacris maculata||3|
|Four-toed Salamander||Hemidactylium scutatum||3|
|Mink Frog||Rana septentrionalis||3|
|Wood Turtle||Glyptemys insculpta||3|
|Pickerel Frog||Rana palustris||2|
|Blanding's Turtle||Emydoidea blandingii||1|
|American Marten||Martes americana||3|
|Gray Wolf||Canis lupus||3|
|Hoary Bat||Lasiurus cinereus||3|
|Northern Flying Squirrel||Glaucomys sabrinus||3|
|Silver-haired Bat||Lasionycteris noctivagans||3|
|Water Shrew||Sorex palustris||3|
|Woodland Jumping Mouse||Napaeozapus insignis||3|
|Eastern Red Bat||Lasiurus borealis||2|
|Northern Long-eared Bat||Myotis septentrionalis||2|
Natural community management opportunities
The North Central Forest 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 Hardwood Swamp||Major|
|Northern Mesic Forest||Major|
|Northern Sedge Meadow||Major|
|Northern Wet Forest||Major|
|Northern Wet-mesic Forest||Major|
|Boreal Rich Fen||Important|
|Emergent Marsh - Wild Rice||Important|
|Northern Dry-mesic Forest||Important|
|Northern Dry Forest||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
The North Central Forest contains the best large-scale interior forest management opportunities in the state. There are opportunities to create or maintain large habitat patches, develop or re-establish greater connectivity between forest habitat patches and restore missing and diminished cover types. Restoring conifers to many hardwood forests is a major opportunity. Hemlock and yellow birch, once the dominant species in this landscape, are greatly reduced and declining. Both species are difficult to regenerate, so developing effective regeneration methods given deer herbivory challenges is a management opportunity.
Old forests are a rare and declining resource in Wisconsin. The North Central Forest offers excellent opportunities to manage areas for older forest within a context of outstanding aquatic features, intact and relatively undisturbed wetlands and vast public landholdings. Working forests could include areas with extended rotations, the development of old-growth forest characteristics and/or stands of "managed old-growth."
Wetlands are abundant here and include forested, shrub and herbaceous types. Collectively, wet-mesic forests, including Northern Wet-mesic Forest and Hardwood Swamp, are more common here than anywhere else in the state. Acid peatlands are common and widespread. Ephemeral Ponds are abundant and provide important habitat for numerous animals. Protecting the hydrology and integrity of the landscape's wetlands is a major opportunity.
Aquatic resources are in good condition compared to many areas elsewhere in the state. Water quality is high, sediment and pollutant loads are low, flow levels tend to follow normal patterns on many streams and the diversity of aquatic organisms is significant. Maintaining the existing high percentage of forest cover within watersheds is, arguably, the most critical factor in maintaining high water quality and supporting all of the aquatic species native to northern Wisconsin's lakes and streams.
Invasive species are, generally, less abundant here than in many other ecological landscapes, especially those in the southern half of the state. However, invasive species detections are increasing in this landscape. Controlling these species before they become abundant, as they have in many other parts of the state, is an important opportunity as both control efforts and costs are more manageable when problems are still localized.
There are good opportunities to maintain communities and habitats that are either especially well-represented here or rare elsewhere in the state. These include lowland forests dominated either by white cedar or black ash, acid peatlands, bedrock glades and moist cliffs. It should be possible to provide for the needs of the vast majority of plants and animals native to the North Central Forest, including the many rare species that have been documented.
1. The text presented here is a summarized version of a longer section developed for the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.
North Central Forest 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.
North Central Forest 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 North Central Forest Ecological Landscape. The North Central Forest 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.
- 212Jb03. Saxon/North Ironwood Till Plain
- 212Jb01. Penokee/Gogebic Iron Range
- 212Jb02. Gile/Erwin Till Plain
- 212Xf01. Cable Rolling Outwash
- 212Jb05. Gurney/Ontonagon Spillway
- 212Jc05. Valhalla/Marenisco (McDonald) Moraines
- 212Xf06. Smokey Hill Basalt Ridge
- 212Jc02. Winegar Moraines
- 212Xa01. Glidden Drumlins
- 212Xa03. Chequamegon Washed Till and Outwash
- 212Xf05. Frog Creek Moraines
- 212Xc02. Argonne Outwash Plains
- 212Xf04. Hayward Moraines
- 212Xc05. Popple River Knolls
- 212Xc04. Nicolet Hills
- 212Xf02. Telemark Washed End Moraine
- 212Xf03. Lac Court Oreilles Plains
- 212Xd02. Flambeau silt capped Drumlins
- 212Xe01. Meteor Hills
- 212Xf07. Birchwood Lakes
- 212Xd01. Pipestone Hills
- 212Xc09. Bass Lake Drumlins
- 212Xa02. Phillips Plains
- 212Xd05. Jump River Ground Moraine
- 212Xc01. Iron River/Argonne Drumlins
- 212Xe13. Rhinelander Moraines
- 212Xe02. Blue Hills
- 212Xc03. Pickerel Plains
- 212Xc07. Wabeno Plains
- 212Xe06. Elcho Moraines
- 212Xe10. Harrison Hills
- 212Xe04. Pikes Peak Moraines
- 212Xe08. Summit Lake Moraines
- 212Xe07. Kempster Moraines
- 212Xc06. Wabeno Drumlins
- 212Xe12. Irma Moraines
- 212Xe09. Newood Moraines
- 212Xe11. Black River Moraines
- 212Xd04. Chippewa-Flambeau Plains
- 212Xd03. Exeland Plains
- 212Xe03. Maple Hill Moraines
- 212Xe05. Perkinstown Moraines
- 212Xg05. Florance Moraines
- 212Xg06. Fern Moraines