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Central Sand Plains Ecological Landscape
Download the Central Sand Plains chapter of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin. This chapter provides a detailed assessment of the ecological and socioeconomic conditions for the Central Sand 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|
3,420 square miles (2,188,861 acres), representing 6.1% of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.
Typical of southern Wisconsin, mean annual temperature is 43.8 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 32.8 inches, and mean annual snowfall is 45.0 inches. However, the mean growing season (135 days) is almost 19 days less than other southern Wisconsin ecological landscapes. Summer temperatures can drop below freezing at night in low-lying areas, restricting the distribution of some native plants. The short growing season and summer frosts limit agriculture, especially west of the Wisconsin River where commercially-grown cranberries are an important crop. East of the Wisconsin River the growing season is somewhat longer (by approximately 11 days), with fewer nights of potential summer frost. In this area agriculture is focused primarily on cool season crops such as potatoes, vegetables, and early maturing corn. Center pivot irrigation is widely used to water crops in this region of sandy soils. Grazing is a common land use practice in some areas. Learn more from the chapter
Late Cambrian sandstone that contains strata of dolomite and shale. Most exposures are of Cambrian sandstones. Precambrian igneous (granite) and metamorphic (gneiss) rocks lie beneath the sandstone and are exposed in a few places (e.g., in rapids on the Black River and East Fork of the Black River). Learn more from the chapter
Geology & Landforms
An extensive, nearly level expanse of lacustrine and outwash sand that originated from a huge glacial lake characterizes much of the Central Sand Plains. Sand was deposited in Glacial Lake Wisconsin by outwash derived from melting glaciers to the north. Exposures of eroded sandstone bedrock remnants as buttes, mounds and pinnacles are unique to this Ecological Landscape. Sandstone is also exposed as cliffs along the Black River and some of its tributaries. Learn more from the chapter
Most soils formed from deep sand deposits of glacial lacustrine or outwash origin or in materials eroded from sandstone hillslopes and sometimes with a surface of wind-deposited (aeolian) sand. These soils are excessively drained, with very rapid permeability, very low available water capacity, and low nutrient status. In lower-lying terrain where silty lacustrine material impedes drainage, the water table is very close to the surface. Such areas are extensive in the western part of the Ecological Landscape, where soils may be poorly drained with surfaces of peat, muck or mucky peat. Thickness of peat deposits ranges from a few inches to more than 15 feet. Learn more from the chapter
Large areas of wetlands and a number of generally low-gradient streams that range from small coldwater streams to large warmwater rivers. Major rivers include the Wisconsin, Black, East Fork of the Black, Yellow, and Lemonweir. A number of headwaters streams originate in the extensive peatlands west of the Wisconsin River. Natural lakes are rare, and are limited to riverine floodplains and a few scattered ponds within the bed of extinct Glacial Lake Wisconsin. The hydrology of this Ecological Landscape has been greatly disrupted by past drainage, channelization, impoundment construction, and groundwater withdrawal. Learn more from the chapter
The eastern portion of the Central Sand Plains is a mosaic of cropland, managed grasslands and scattered woodlots of pine, oak, and aspen. Many of the historic wetlands in the east were drained early in the 1900s and are now used for agricultural purposes. The western portion of this Ecological Landscape is mostly forest or wetland. Oak, pine, and aspen are the most abundant forest cover types. Plantations of red pine are common in some areas. On wet sites the forests are of two major types: tamarack and black spruce in the peatlands, and bottomland hardwoods in the floodplains of the larger rivers. Many attempts to practice agriculture west of the Wisconsin River failed due to poor soils, poor drainage, and growing season frosts. Learn more from the chapter
(based on data from Adams, Clark, Jackson, Juneau, Monroe, Portage, and Wood counties)
292,119, 5.1% of the state total
46 persons/ sq. mile
Per Capita Income
Important Economic Sectors
The largest employment sectors in 2007 were: health care and social services (13.5%); government (13.4%); tourism-related (10.8%), and retail trade (8.9%). Although forestry and agriculture (potato and cranberry production are important here) do not have as large an impact on the number of jobs they produce compared to other economic sectors, they are the sectors that have the largest impact on the natural resources within the Ecological Landscape due to their effects on land and water.
Approximately one-quarter of the Ecological Landscape is publicly owned, very high for an Ecological Landscape this far south. The public lands are mostly in federal, state, or county ownership, and include Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Black River State Forest, Buena Vista, Sandhill, Meadow Valley, and Wood County Wildlife Areas, Buckhorn State Park, and Clark, Jackson, Juneau, Monroe and Wood 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
The Nature Conservancy has partnered with WDNR and others to develop a large conservation project at Quincy Bluff in southern Adams County. Members of the Ho-Chunk Nation have significant holdings near Black River Falls. Some of the private holdings in the Central Sand Plains are very large, especially when compared with other ecological landscapes in southern Wisconsin.
|Considerations for Planning & Management|
The extensive acreage of public lands, and the large amount of forest cover and wetlands in the western part of the Central Sand Plains, present unique opportunities for management at large scales. A small number of large private ownerships, rather than numerous small private ownerships, is a characteristic ownership pattern in some areas, and this may also facilitate management at large scales and potentially make the coordination of management on public and private lands more feasible. Integration of forest and barrens management is possible and highly desirable in some areas because of the type, suitability, and condition of the habitats present, the extensive acreage of public lands, and the relatively low levels of development. Partial restoration of some streams is possible by restoring meanders, removing dams, plugging ditches, and improving management on other lands within the watersheds. Groundwater withdrawals and contamination are concerns due to the sandy soils and high water table. Center pivot irrigation is common east of the Wisconsin River and has been increasing to the west of the Wisconsin. Use of prescribed fire as a management tool may be more feasible at large scales here than elsewhere in southern WI, and is appropriate for many forest, savanna, grassland, and wetland communities. Burn plans should incorporate refugia where needed to protect fire-sensitive species. The spread of invasive plants threatens natural communities and other habitats and is a growing management concern. Commercial cranberry farming has been expanding in recent years; sometimes into upland sites rather than wetlands. Learn more about management opportunities from the chapter
Species of Greatest Conservation Need
The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the Central Sand Plains 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 Tern||Chlidonias niger||3|
|Black-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus erythropthalmus||3|
|Blue-winged Teal||Anas discors||3|
|Blue-winged Warbler||Vermivora pinus||3|
|Brown Thrasher||Toxostoma rufum||3|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||3|
|Field Sparrow||Spizella pusilla||3|
|Golden-winged Warbler||Vermivora chrysoptera||3|
|Grasshopper Sparrow||Ammodramus savannarum||3|
|Greater Prairie-Chicken||Tympanuchus cupido||3|
|Henslow's Sparrow||Ammodramus henslowii||3|
|Least Flycatcher||Empidonax minimus||3|
|Lesser Scaup||Aythya affinis||3|
|Northern Harrier||Circus cyaneus||3|
|Prothonotary Warbler||Protonotaria citrea||3|
|Red-headed Woodpecker||Melanerpes erythrocephalus||3|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Buteo lineatus||3|
|Short-billed Dowitcher||Limnodromus griseus||3|
|Short-eared Owl||Asio flammeus||3|
|Trumpeter Swan||Cygnus buccinator||3|
|Upland Sandpiper||Bartramia longicauda||3|
|Vesper Sparrow||Pooecetes gramineus||3|
|Western Meadowlark||Sturnella neglecta||3|
|Whooping Crane||Grus americana||3|
|Willow Flycatcher||Empidonax traillii||3|
|Wood Thrush||Hylocichla mustelina||3|
|Yellow-billed Cuckoo||Coccyzus americanus||3|
|American Golden Plover||Pluvialis dominica||2|
|Canada Warbler||Wilsonia canadensis||2|
|Cerulean Warbler||Dendroica cerulea||2|
|Connecticut Warbler||Oporornis agilis||2|
|Hudsonian Godwit||Limosa haemastica||2|
|King Rail||Rallus elegans||2|
|Lark Sparrow||Chondestes grammacus||2|
|Le Conte's Sparrow||Ammodramus leconteii||2|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla||2|
|Northern Goshawk||Accipiter gentilis||2|
|Red Crossbill||Loxia curvirostra||2|
|Red-necked Grebe||Podiceps grisegena||2|
|Rusty Blackbird||Euphagus carolinus||2|
|Sharp-tailed Grouse||Tympanuchus phasianellus||2|
|Solitary Sandpiper||Tringa solitaria||2|
|Wilson's Phalarope||Phalaropus tricolor||2|
|Yellow Rail||Coturnicops noveboracensis||2|
|Acadian Flycatcher||Empidonax virescens||1|
|Barn Owl||Tyto alba||1|
|Black-backed Woodpecker||Picoides arcticus||1|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||Dendroica caerulescens||1|
|Horned Grebe||Podiceps auritus||1|
|Kirtland's Warbler||Dendroica kirtlandii||1|
|Loggerhead Shrike||Lanius ludovicianus||1|
|Marbled Godwit||Limosa fedoa||1|
|Northern Bobwhite||Colinus virginianus||1|
|Olive-sided Flycatcher||Contopus cooperi||1|
|Lake Sturgeon||Acipenser fulvescens||3|
|River Redhorse||Moxostoma carinatum||2|
|Western Sand Darter||Ammocrypta clara||2|
|Redfin Shiner||Lythrurus umbratilis||1|
|Redside Dace||Clinostomus elongatus||1|
|Reptiles and Amphibians||Score|
|Four-toed Salamander||Hemidactylium scutatum||3|
|Pickerel Frog||Rana palustris||2|
|Franklin's Ground Squirrel||Spermophilus franklinii||3|
|Gray Wolf||Canis lupus||3|
|Eastern Red Bat||Lasiurus borealis||2|
|Hoary Bat||Lasiurus cinereus||2|
|Northern Long-eared Bat||Myotis septentrionalis||2|
|Prairie Vole||Microtus ochrogaster||2|
|Silver-haired Bat||Lasionycteris noctivagans||2|
|Water Shrew||Sorex palustris||2|
|White-tailed Jackrabbit||Lepus townsendii||2|
|Northern Flying Squirrel||Glaucomys sabrinus||1|
|Woodland Jumping Mouse||Napaeozapus insignis||1|
|Woodland Vole||Microtus pinetorum||1|
Natural community management opportunities
The Central Sand Plains 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 Central Sand Plains surrounds a large acreage of publicly-owned lands and contains extensive blocks of a wide variety of habitats. It provides many landscape-scale management opportunities absent from other parts of Wisconsin, especially the southern half of the state where habitats are often highly fragmented and public ownership is limited.
Large forest blocks provide habitat for area-sensitive species and protect water quality. Extensive oak and pine forests are common and can be managed at all scales and age classes. Opportunities to develop and maintain old-growth characteristics are good for Northern Dry-mesic Forest, Southern Dry-mesic Forest, the mixed Central Sands Pine-Oak Forest, White Pine-Red Maple Swamp, Floodplain Forest, as well as some of the drier oak and pine types at certain locations. Floristically rich mesic hardwood forests on terraces just above the floodplains of several of the major rivers offer fewer, but important, opportunities. Early successional forest management opportunities are also good here, for jack pine, "scrub" oak and, locally, aspen.
Abundant wetlands provide excellent large-scale management opportunities, especially in and around the bed of the former Glacial Lake Wisconsin. Large acid peatland complexes support many species (plants and animals) known mostly from northern Wisconsin, along with species that are rare in the north. These wetlands can be managed in ways that are compatible with surrounding forest and/or open habitats, to maximize their utility for sensitive species.
Rare communities such as Oak and Pine Barrens, Coastal Plain Marsh, White Pine-Red Maple Swamp, are well-represented in the Central Sand Plains and support many rare species. Remnant barrens warrant additional recognition, protection, restoration and expansion, and in many areas could be managed compatibly with dry forests of jack pine and oak. East of the Wisconsin River extensive "surrogate grasslands" are managed for rare and declining grassland animals, including Wisconsin's best populations of the Greater Prairie-chicken and regal fritillary. In general, there are numerous opportunities to connect high-quality remnants of barrens, dry forest, sand prairie and other habitats and manage at multiple scales.
Major rivers such as the Wisconsin, Black, Yellow, Lemonweir and Eau Claire and their floodplains, provide extensive, contiguous habitats (especially floodplain forest) for many species of management concern. The river corridors can provide connectivity between habitats in this landscape and other ecological landscapes to the north, south and west. Headwaters streams originating in Central Sand Plains extensive peatlands could be restored, protected and managed as parts of entire riparian systems - a rare opportunity for the southern half of the state.
Sandstone bedrock exposures in the Central Sand Plains include unusual features such as buttes, mesas, mounds and pinnacles. These types of geological features are not found elsewhere in the state and some of them support rare and specialized plants and animals.
The Central Sand Plains is a major concentration area, of rare species, including several that are globally imperiled. A number of disjunct species, sometimes far from their primary ranges, are present. In addition, the landscape's location and its wide variety of habitats allow many plants and animals to occur near their southern or northern range limits.
1. The text presented here is a summarized version of a longer section developed for the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.
Central Sand Plains maps
Printable maps from the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.
- 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.
Central Sand 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 Central Sand Plains Ecological Landscape. The Central Sand Plains 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.
- 222Rb01. Farichild Uplands
- 222Ra05. Glacial Lake Wisconsin Bogs
- 222Ra12. West Point Plains
- 222Rb03. Pittsbille Uplands
- 222Rb04. Arbutus Uplands
- 222Rb02. Spaulding Uplands
- 222Ra01. Wisconsin River Alluvial Plain and Flowages and Terraces
- 222Ra07. Wisconsin River Outwash Terraces
- 222Ra20. Black-Robinson-Harrison Terraces and Floodplains
- 222Ra04. Northwest Outlet Cranberry Bogs
- 222Ra14. Glacical Lake Wisconsin Siliceous Sand Plain
- 222Ra19. Jackson Siliceous Sand Plain
- 222Ra16. Jackson-Juneau Sandstone Knolls and Terraces
- 222Ra11. Yellow River Floodplain and Terraces
- 222Ra13. Yellow River Siliceous Terrace
- 222Ra09. Tomah-Mauston Terraces
- 222Ra15. Lemonweir Floodplain and Terraces
- 222Ra10. Adams County Bluffs
- 222Ra08. Plover-Hankock Outwash Plain
- 222Ra03. Glacial Lake Wisconsin Sand Plain
- 222Ra06. Glacial Lake Wisconsin Sand Dunes
- 222Ra17. Castle Rock Bluffs and Terraces
- 222Ra02. Wisconsin Dells
- 222Ra18. Baraboo-Dells Terrace and Outwash Plain