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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

Central Sand Hills Ecological Landscape

Download the Central Sand Hills chapter [PDF] of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin. This chapter provides a detailed assessment of the ecological and socioeconomic conditions for the Central Sand Hills. 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


1,388,705 acres (2,170 square miles), representing 3.9 % of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.


Typical of south central Wisconsin; mean growing season of 144 days, mean annual temperature is 44.8 deg. F, average January minimum temperature is 4deg. F, average August maximum temperature is 81deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 33 inches, mean annual snowfall is 44 inches. Although the climate is suitable for agricultural row crops, small grains, and pastures, the sandy soils somewhat limit agricultural potential.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Bedrock exposures are limited but include Precambrian rhyolite bluffs, and a vertical exposure of Ordovician St. Peter sandstone with a thin dolomite cap at Gibraltar Rock in Columbia County.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

The landforms in this Ecological Landscape include a series of glacial moraines (the Johnstown Moraine is the terminal moraine of the Green Bay lobe; the Arnott Moraine is older, and has more subdued topography. Pitted outwash is extensive in some areas. Glacial tunnel channels occur here, e.g., in Waushara County, just east of and visible from I-39.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Soils are primarily sands. Organic soils underlie wetlands such as tamarack swamps and sedge meadows. Muck farming still occurs in some areas.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Mosaic of extensive wetlands and small kettle lakes in the outwash areas, and the headwaters of coldwater streams originating in glacial moraines. Some seepage lakes and ponds exhibit dramatic natural water level fluctuations which create important Inland Beach and Coastal Plain Marsh habitats. The Wisconsin River and a short but ecologically important stretch of the lower Baraboo River flow through this Ecological Landscape. Other important rivers include the Fox, Grand, Mecan, Montello, Puchyan, and White. Large impoundments occur on the Wisconsin (Lake Wisconsin), Fox (Buffalo and Puckaway lakes) and Grand (Grand River Marsh) rivers.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Current vegetation is more than one-third agricultural crops, one third forest, and almost 20% grasslands with smaller amounts of open wetland, open water, shrubs, unvegetated (termed "barren" in WISCLAND), and urban areas. Large contiguous areas of any of the major natural or surrogate vegetation types are uncommon.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Portage, Waushara, Marquette, Green Lake, and Columbia. counties)


182,035, 3.2% of the state total

Population Density

59 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

The largest employment sectors in 2007 were: Government (13.2% vs. 12.1% statewide); Tourism-related (12.6% vs. 11.2%), Manufacturing (non-wood) (12.0% vs. 11.7%) and Health care & social services (9.4% vs. 10.7%).

Public Ownership

Scattered Federal Waterfowl Production Areas, Fox River National Wildlife Refuge, scattered state-owned and managed lands, including Hartman Creek State Park, several State Wildlife Areas, Fisheries Areas, and Natural Areas. 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 been active in this Ecological Landscape, with projects at sites that include Summerton Bog and Page Creek Marsh.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

Important concerns and considerations in the Central Sand Hills include the fragmentation and isolation of major habitats, groundwater withdrawals, ground and surface water contamination, hydrologic disruption due to ditching and diking, fire suppression and the loss of fire-dependent habitats and species, shoreline development, and the introduction and spread of invasive species. Poor water quality exists in some lakes and impoundments. Ground water contamination is also an issue in this Ecological Landscape. Excessive groundwater withdrawals could have serious negative consequences in areas supporting coldwater streams and seepage lakes, and within the recharge areas of groundwater-dependent natural communities such as Coastal Plain Marsh, Calcareous Fen, Tamarack Swamp, and Southern Sedge Meadow. Fire suppression has altered successional pathways that maintained savannas, prairies and other fire-adapted or dependent vegetation.  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 Central Sand Hills 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 WoodcockScolopax minor3
Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus3
Black TernChlidonias niger3
Black-billed CuckooCoccyzus erythropthalmus3
Blue-winged TealAnas discors3
Blue-winged WarblerVermivora pinus3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum3
Cerulean WarblerDendroica cerulea3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Field SparrowSpizella pusilla3
Forster's TernSterna forsteri3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus3
Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus3
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus3
VeeryCatharus fuscescens3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta3
Whip-poor-willCaprimulgus vociferus3
Whooping CraneGrus americana3
Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax traillii3
Wood ThrushHylocichla mustelina3
Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus3
American Golden PloverPluvialis dominica2
DunlinCalidris alpina2
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera2
Hudsonian GodwitLimosa haemastica2
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus2
Le Conte's SparrowAmmodramus leconteii2
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis2
OspreyPandion haliaetus2
Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Solitary SandpiperTringa solitaria2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
Yellow RailCoturnicops noveboracensis2
Barn OwlTyto alba1
Black-throated Blue WarblerDendroica caerulescens1
Buff-breasted SandpiperTryngites subruficollis1
Canada WarblerWilsonia canadensis1
CanvasbackAythya valisineria1
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido1
Horned GrebePodiceps auritus1
Lesser ScaupAythya affinis1
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Marbled GodwitLimosa fedoa1
Prothonotary WarblerProtonotaria citrea1
Trumpeter SwanCygnus buccinator1
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Black BuffaloIctiobus niger3
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca3
PaddlefishPolyodon spathula3
Shoal Chub (Speckled Chub)Macrhybopsis hyostoma3
Western Sand DarterAmmocrypta clara3
Banded KillifishFundulus diaphanus2
Greater RedhorseMoxostoma valenciennesi1
Pugnose ShinerNotropis anogenus1
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis1
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Reptiles and AmphibiansScore
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum2
Pickerel FrogRana palustris2
MudpuppyNecturus maculosus1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Franklin's Ground SquirrelSpermophilus franklinii3
Eastern Red BatLasiurus borealis2
Gray WolfCanis lupus2
Hoary BatLasiurus cinereus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Water ShrewSorex palustris2
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus1
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis1
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum1

Community opportunities

Natural community management opportunities

The Central Sand Hills 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

Fire-dependent communities were once common and widespread in the Central Sand Hills. Although today's examples are mostly small remnants, there are excellent opportunities to manage for fire-dependent and fire-adapted communities such as oak forest, oak woodland, oak savanna, tallgrass prairie, sedge meadow and fen. Remnant savannas, both Oak Barrens and Oak Openings, occur on dry and dry-mesic sites scattered throughout the Central Sand Hills. All of these communities have high potential to support rare plants, invertebrates and reptiles.

Dry forests of white, black and bur oak are common, though forest management at large scales is constrained by ownership patterns and small tract size and current land uses. Management of oak forests and woodlands could be integrated with management of oak savanna, prairie and wetlands. This would be especially appropriate on public and private lands managed mostly for conservation purposes. Mixed forests of pine and oak are locally common, and the Central Sand Hills is one of two ecological landscapes where good examples of the Central Sands Pine-Oak Forest community have been documented.

Numerous springs and coldwater streams emanate from the end moraine that forms the western boundary of the Central Sand Hills. Wetland communities associated with these glacial landforms include fen, sedge meadow, low prairie, shrub swamp and tamarack swamp; some of these wetlands are quite alkaline and differ in composition from those found in the more acid environments to the west.

Large wetland complexes such as those found at Germania Marsh, Comstock Marsh, Grand River Marsh and Fountain Creek Prairie contain good examples of fen, sedge meadow, wet prairie, shrub swamp and tamarack swamp. The Central Sand Hills contains more occurrences of the globally rare Coastal Plain Marsh community than any other landscape in Wisconsin. Coastal Plain Marsh communities provide habitat for rare vascular plants and invertebrates and are associated with sandy or gravelly shores of seepage lakes that exhibit dramatic natural water level fluctuations. The US Threatened Fassett's locoweed is strongly associated with this and the inland beach communities. Floodplain forest is significant along stretches of the major rivers such as the Wisconsin, Baraboo and Montello and provides important habitat for resident and migratory wildlife.

Important warmwater rivers include the Fox, Montello, Baraboo and a short but ecologically significant stretch of the Wisconsin. This section includes Pine Island State Wildlife Area, an area associated floodplain habitats, as well as significant savanna and grassland remnants. Dams on several of the major rivers have created very large shallow impoundments, including Buffalo Lake, Lake Puckaway and Lake Wisconsin, and these offer valuable wildlife habitat but need rehabilitation to address their poor water quality. Green Lake, Wisconsin's deepest inland lake, is located in the east central portion of the Central Sand Hills.

Bedrock exposures are rare in the Central Sand Hills. However, they include good examples of glades, cliffs and talus slopes, which support rare plants and other unique vegetation, as well as some rare animals.

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


Central Sand Hills 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 Hills Ecological Landscape. The Central Sand Hills 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