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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

Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape

Download the Northern 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 Northern 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


2,004 square miles (1,282,877 acres), representing 3.6% of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.


Cold winters and warm summers are moderated by the thermal mass of Lake Michigan, especially in coastal areas. The mean growing season is 140 days, mean annual temperature is 42.8 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 32.1, and mean annual snowfall is 46 inches. Lake effect snow can be significant, especially along Lake Michigan. Rainfall and growing degree days are adequate to support agricultural row crops, small grains, hay and pastures. Warmer temperatures near Lake Michigan in fall and early winter and slightly cooler temperatures during spring and early summer are favorable for growing cherries, apples, and other fruits on the Door Peninsula.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Primarily underlain by Silurian dolomite but with some sandstone, also igneous and metamorphic rocks. Generally, the land is covered by a layer of soils of glacial origin; in some places, such as on the Door Peninsula and in the Grand Traverse Islands, the depth to bedrock is only a few feet or less from the surface.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

The Niagara Escarpment is a prominent bedrock ridge of Silurian dolomite that is exposed as cliffs and ledges along the western edge of the Door Peninsula and in the Grand Traverse Islands. The same bedrock is also exposed at many locations along the east side of the northern Door Peninsula, where it forms broad, nearly level bedrock shorelines. A broad, level lacustrine plain occurs in areas bordering the west shore of Green Bay, where an extensive delta has been created at the mouth of the Peshtigo River. Landforms along the Lake Michigan shore include beaches, dunes, baymouth bars, and complex ridge and swale topography. Embayment lakes and freshwater estuaries are also characteristic of the Lake Michigan shore. Elsewhere in this Ecological Landscape, ground moraine is the dominant landform.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Soils are diverse; in some areas, lacustrine sands are found overlying clays, or bedrock which is within a few feet of the surface. On the Door Peninsula soils are calcareous, typically stony loamy sands to loams. Shallow soils and exposures of dolomite bedrock are frequent near the Lake Michigan and Green Bay coasts. Poorly drained sands are common in the lake plain west of Green Bay and in depressions between dunes and beach ridges. Beyond the lake plain west of Green Bay, the ground moraine is composed mostly of moderately well-drained, rocky sandy loams, interspersed with lacustrine sands and clays. Peats and mucks are common along the west shore of Green Bay and in the northwestern part of the Ecological Landscape. There is an area of sandy soils between Stiles and Oconto Falls west of Green Bay. Chambers Island has "sandy, gravelly, clayey soils".  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Lake Michigan is cold, deep, oligotrophic, and relatively clean; Green Bay, an estuary that is also the largest bay on Lake Michigan, is warm, shallow, productive, and dynamic. It has been heavily polluted, especially by industries that formerly dumped wastes into the Fox River at the head of the bay (which is within the Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape). The larger rivers that flow through this Ecological Landscape into Green Bay include the Menominee, Oconto, Peshtigo, and Pensaukee. These rivers and their tributaries drain the uplands west of Green Bay before passing through the extensive wetlands along Green Bay's west shore. Several large embayment lakes (e.g., Clark, Europe, and Kangaroo lakes) occur along the east side of the northern Door Peninsula. There are few large inland lakes. Several impoundments constructed on rivers west of Green Bay had been subjected to high levels of pollution from past industrial activity. On the Door Peninsula there have been serious groundwater contamination problems from agricultural pesticides and manure. These pollutants were able to reach the groundwater through the fractured dolomite bedrock. The lower Wolf River drains the westernmost part of this Ecological Landscape.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Historically, the uplands were almost entirely covered by forest. Today, more than 64% is non-forested. Most of this land is now in agricultural crops (51%), with smaller amounts of grassland (5.6%), non-forested wetlands (6.1%), shrubland 0.1%), and urbanized areas (0.8%). The most abundant cover type in the forested uplands (262,119 acres or 20.4% of the Ecological Landscape) is maple-basswood, with smaller amounts of aspen-birch. Forested wetlands (mostly lowland hardwoods, with some conifer swamps) cover slightly over 14% of the area. Other cover types are comparatively scarce but of high importance ecologically, and include maple-beech, hemlock-hardwoods, white pine, and mixtures of boreal conifers (dominants include white spruce-balsam fir-white pine-white cedar). Important non-forested wetland communities include marsh, sedge meadow, and shrub swamp.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Marinette, Oconto, Shawano, and Door counties)


148,920, 2.7% of the state total

Population Density

39 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

The largest employment sectors are: tourism-related (14.4%); manufacturing (non-wood) (13.4%), government (12.5%) and retail trade (9.3%) sectors in 2007. Although forestry, agriculture, and development do not have as large an impact on the economy or in the number of jobs they produce, they are the sectors that have the largest impact on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape.

Public Ownership

Only about 3.5% of the Ecological Landscape is public land. Some of smaller islands are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for colonial nesting birds, as part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. State ownership includes five state parks; four on the Door Peninsula and one in the Grand Traverse Islands, as well as lands administered and/or managed by the DNR's Wildlife Management, Fisheries, and State Natural Areas programs. Door County Parks owns several ecologically significant tracts along the Green Bay and Lake Michigan shores. An extensive area of county forest (Marinette and Oconto counties) occurs near the Green Bay west shore, and another is in the sandy area in Oconto County along the Oconto River. 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 has a major conservation project on the Door Peninsula. There are several Land Trusts active in this area, and the Door County Land Trust has a number of active projects.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

The ecosystems of Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and the West Shore wetlands have changed dramatically in a short period of just a few years in recent decades. Conservation plans must be highly adaptive, coordinated, and integrated. Increasing development, skyrocketing land prices, and increasing recreational pressure on a limited land base are placing serious constraints on conservation efforts on the Door Peninsula. Pollutants in Green Bay have created serious management problems, especially for fish and fish-eating birds, and by extension, potentially for humans. The shallow soils and fractured bedrock of the Door Peninsula and Grand Traverse Islands makes sustainable development and water management challenging and expensive. The rapid spread of invasive species over the past several decades is overwhelming managers and agency budgets and is exacerbated by the large number and high mobility of visitors (including tourists, and commercial ships from other parts of the world), especially to the Door Peninsula, Grand Traverse Islands, and Green Bay West Shore. Browse pressure from high populations of white-tailed deer is having negative impacts on many of the native ecosystems and plant communities in this Ecological Landscape, especially on the biologically-diverse Door Peninsula.  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 Northern 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."
American Golden PloverPluvialis dominica3
American WoodcockScolopax minor3
Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus3
Black TernChlidonias niger3
Black-billed CuckooCoccyzus erythropthalmus3
Black-throated Blue WarblerDendroica caerulescens3
Blue-winged TealAnas discors3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum3
Canada WarblerWilsonia canadensis3
CanvasbackAythya valisineria3
Caspian TernSterna caspia3
Common TernSterna hirundo3
DunlinCalidris alpina3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Field SparrowSpizella pusilla3
Forster's TernSterna forsteri3
Great EgretArdea alba3
Horned GrebePodiceps auritus3
Hudsonian GodwitLimosa haemastica3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Lesser ScaupAythya affinis3
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis3
Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus3
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi3
OspreyPandion haliaetus3
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus3
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus3
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda3
VeeryCatharus fuscescens3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus3
Whip-poor-willCaprimulgus vociferus3
Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax traillii3
Wood ThrushHylocichla mustelina3
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
Blue-winged WarblerVermivora pinus2
Buff-breasted SandpiperTryngites subruficollis2
DickcisselSpiza americana2
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera2
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum2
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus2
Marbled GodwitLimosa fedoa2
Piping PloverCharadrius melodus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Snowy EgretEgretta thula2
Solitary SandpiperTringa solitaria2
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta2
Yellow RailCoturnicops noveboracensis2
Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus2
American Black DuckAnas rubripes1
Louisiana WaterthrushSeiurus motacilla1
RedheadAythya americana1
Trumpeter SwanCygnus buccinator1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Banded KillifishFundulus diaphanus3
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
Shoal Chub (Speckled Chub)Macrhybopsis hyostoma3
Greater RedhorseMoxostoma valenciennesi2
Longear SunfishLepomis megalotis2
Pugnose ShinerNotropis anogenus2
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis2
Western Sand DarterAmmocrypta clara2
American EelAnguilla rostrata1
Skipjack HerringAlosa chrysochloris1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Reptiles and AmphibiansScore
Mink FrogRana septentrionalis3
MudpuppyNecturus maculosus3
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum2
Pickerel FrogRana palustris2

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus3
Water ShrewSorex palustris3
Eastern Red BatLasiurus borealis2
Gray WolfCanis lupus2
Hoary BatLasiurus cinereus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis2
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum1

Community opportunities

Natural community management opportunities

The Northern 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 Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape borders Lake Michigan and Green Bay, encompassing over 200 miles of Great Lakes coast. The shorelines and related habitats, some of them unique to the Great Lakes, are used during the spring and fall by large numbers of migratory birds. In recent years, tens of thousands of diving ducks have been recorded wintering in offshore Lake Michigan habitats. Both Lake Michigan and Green Bay are highly significant for fish.

Large rookeries of colonial fish-eating birds occur on islands in Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Green Bay's low-lying west shore features extensive wetlands of marsh, sedge meadow, shrub swamp and hardwood swamp. The remnant conifer-hardwood forests on the Door Peninsula's margins support diverse populations of breeding birds and are also heavily used by many migrants.

The northern Door Peninsula and associated Grand Traverse Islands present conservation opportunities offered nowhere else in Wisconsin. Unusual physiographic features such as ridge and swale complexes, embayment lakes and freshwater estuaries are rich in rare natural communities, including beach, dune, bedrock shore, coastal fen and boreal forest. These, in turn, support one of Wisconsin's greatest concentrations of rare species, some of them endemic to Great Lakes shoreline environments.

The dolomite Niagara Escarpment is a dominant geological feature of this landscape. On the west side of the Door Peninsula the Escarpment is exposed as cliffs, ledges and talus slopes. Springs and seeps are present, and some of Wisconsin's oldest trees grow on the Escarpment. To the east, along Lake Michigan, the same bedrock forms extensive horizontal rock "beaches."

Scattered features of ecological importance include a stretch of the Menominee River at the northern edge of the landscape; a concentration of rich conifer swamps in the poorly drained terrain east and north of Lake Noquebay; extensive dry forests of aspen, oak and pine on sandy soils in southern Oconto County; warmwater rivers and streams entering Green Bay from the west; and the northernmost stretch of the Lower Wolf River.

Management opportunities vary greatly in different parts of the Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape because of its variability. The factors responsible for this include the past and present influence of Lake Michigan and Green Bay, the dolomite bedrock, the composition of the glacial till and the highly variable landforms and their effects on land use. Because of this heterogeneity, Landtype Associations, which are fully described in the handbook chapter on the Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape, can be helpful in identifying, describing and framing management opportunities in greater detail at appropriate locations and at larger scales in this landscape.

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


Northern 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 Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. The Northern 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