Map showing the Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape
Find an Ecological Landscape
Statewide Maps
View or print EL handbook maps
The Handbook
View or print chapters
Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes, contact:
Andy Stoltman

Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape

Landscape at a Glance

Physical & Biotic Environment


2,742 square miles (1,755,089 acres), representing 4.9% of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.


The climate in the eastern part of this Ecological Landscape is moderated by its proximity to Lake Michigan, leading to warmer temperatures in the fall and early winter and somewhat cooler temperatures during spring and early summer that influence vegetation and other aspects of the ecology. Lake effect snow can occur in areas along the Lake Michigan coast during the winter. Mean growing season is 160 days (second longest in the state), mean annual temperature is 45.1 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 31.1 (second lowest in the state), and mean annual snowfall is 43.4 inches. There is adequate rainfall and growing degree days to support agricultural row crops, small grains, and pastures which are prevalent land uses here.


Bedrock is mostly Silurian dolomite. It underlies all the counties along Lake Michigan, extending as far west as Lake Winnebago. It often appears as ridges or cliffs where surrounding bedrock has been eroded. Maquoketa shale occurs in a narrow strip along the Green Bay shoreline. West of Green Bay, the land is underlain by dolomitic rock with strata of limestone and shale. Further inland, bands of sandstone lie roughly parallel to the shore. An area in western Outagamie and eastern Shawano counties is deeply underlain by Precambrian granitic rocks. Where overlying glacial deposits are thin enough (e.g., in parts of the Door Peninsula), bedrock characteristics can directly affect the vegetation, especially where the substrate is strongly calcareous. Plant nutrients derived from limestone and dolomite have contributed to the development of unusual plant communities, and these in turn support rare or uncommon plants adapted to habitats containing high levels of calcium. Where dolomitic bedrock is close to the surface, runoff laden with sediments and pollutants can move quickly and over long distances through fractures in the rock.

Geology & Landforms

Landforms are mostly glacial in origin, especially till plains and moraines, reworked and overlain in the western part by Glacial Lake Oshkosh. Beach ridges, terraces, and dunes formed near the shorelines of this glacial lake when sandy sediments were present. At other locations boulder fields were formed when silts and clays were removed by wave action. Along Lake Michigan coastal ridge and swale complexes, drowned river mouths (freshwater estuaries), and clay bluffs and ravines occur. The Niagara Escarpment is a prominent bedrock feature that runs along the east sides of lower Green Bay and the Fox River Valley.


Most upland soils are reddish-brown calcareous loamy till or lacustrine deposits on moraines, till plains, and lake plains. The dominant soil is loamy or clayey with a silt loam surface, with moderately slow permeability, and high available water capacity.


Lake Michigan is a key ecological and socioeconomic feature. It influences the climate, created unique landforms, and is responsible in part for the presence and distribution of rare species. The shoreline constitutes a major flyway for migratory birds. Most of the major cities in this Ecological Landscape are located at the mouths of rivers entering Lake Michigan or Green Bay. Inland lakes are scarce, and all are small. The Fox River drains Lake Winnebago and runs into Green Bay. The other major rivers here run directly into Lake Michigan, and include the Ahnapee, Kewaunee, East Twin, West Twin, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Milwaukee.

Current Landcover

Agriculture is the dominant land use here by area, and there are several medium sized cities. Some large forested wetlands occur in both the eastern and western parts of the Ecological Landscape. The Wolf River bottoms are especially important in the west. Extensive marshes persist in southwestern Green Bay. The ridge and swale complex at Point Beach contains the largest area of coastal forest (with associated wetlands, dunes, and beaches) and constitutes an extremely important repository of regional biodiversity.

Back to Top

Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Waupaca, Outagamie, Brown, Kewaunee, Calumet, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Ozaukee counties)


814,770, 14.5% of the state total

Population Density

199 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

The sectors producing the most jobs were: manufacturing (non-wood) (14.5%); tourism-related (11.1%), government (9.5%) and retail trade (9.1%) in 2007. Agriculture and urbanization have the largest effect on the natural resources of the Ecological Landscape.

Public Ownership

Public lands include Point Beach State Forest, Harrington Beach and Kohler-Andrae State Parks, several State Wildlife Areas (including several units of Green Bay West Shores, C. D. Besadny, Collins Marsh, Brillion Marsh, and Navarino), State Fishery Areas, and State Natural Areas. UW-Green Bay owns Point Au Sable on Lower Green Bay and land along lower Fischer Creek in Manitowoc County. Sheboygan Marsh is owned mostly by the county, but partly by the DNR. Other county ownerships include Maribel Caves (Manitowoc), Lily Lake (Brown), and at least part of the Cat Island chain in Lower Green Bay (Brown). A map showing public land ownership (county, state, and federal) and private lands enrolled in the Forest Tax Programs can be found in Appendix K at the end of this chapter.

Other Notable Ownerships

Woodland Dunes Nature Center (private), Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary (owned by the City of Green Bay).

Back to Top

Considerations for Planning & Management

Fragmentation, especially of forested habitats, is severe in this Ecological Landscape. Many remnants of native vegetation are small and isolated, and there is not much public land. Where feasible, steps need to be taken to increase effective habitat area, and minimize isolation by connecting scattered remnants, especially along shorelines and waterways. Additional stopover sites for migratory birds are needed along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Invasive plants are a major problem in both upland and wetland vegetation types. The Lower Green Bay ecosystem continues to change rapidly; it seems unlikely that this area will stabilize in the immediate future. There is a need for an updated and expanded inventory of natural features here.

Back to Top


Species of Greatest Conservation Need

The content for this page came from the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan

The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
American WoodcockScolopax minor3
Black TernChlidonias niger3
Black-billed CuckooCoccyzus erythropthalmus3
Blue-winged TealAnas discors3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum3
Cerulean WarblerDendroica cerulea3
Common TernSterna hirundo3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
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 HarrierCircus cyaneus3
OspreyPandion haliaetus3
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus3
Prothonotary WarblerProtonotaria citrea3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus3
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda3
VeeryCatharus fuscescens3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus3
Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax traillii3
Wood ThrushHylocichla mustelina3
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens2
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
American Golden PloverPluvialis dominica2
Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus2
Black-throated Blue WarblerDendroica caerulescens2
Blue-winged WarblerVermivora pinus2
Buff-breasted SandpiperTryngites subruficollis2
Canada WarblerWilsonia canadensis2
CanvasbackAythya valisineria2
Caspian TernSterna caspia2
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera2
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum2
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii2
Hooded WarblerWilsonia citrina2
King RailRallus elegans2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus2
Marbled GodwitLimosa fedoa2
Piping PloverCharadrius melodus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Snowy EgretEgretta thula2
Solitary SandpiperTringa solitaria2
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta2
Whip-poor-willCaprimulgus vociferus2
Wilson's PhalaropePhalaropus tricolor2
Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus2
Yellow-crowned Night-HeronNyctanassa violacea2
Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra1
RedheadAythya americana1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1
Trumpeter SwanCygnus buccinator1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
Banded KillifishFundulus diaphanus2
Greater RedhorseMoxostoma valenciennesi2
Redside DaceClinostomus elongatus2
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum2
Shoal Chub (Speckled Chub)Macrhybopsis hyostoma2
Western Sand DarterAmmocrypta clara2
American EelAnguilla rostrata1
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta1
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca1
Skipjack HerringAlosa chrysochloris1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Reptiles and AmphibiansScore
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum3
MudpuppyNecturus maculosus3
Pickerel FrogRana palustris2
Northern Cricket FrogAcris crepitans1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Eastern Red BatLasiurus borealis2
Hoary BatLasiurus cinereus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus1
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster1
Water ShrewSorex palustris1
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis1
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum1

Community opportunities

Natural community management opportunities

The Central Lake Michigan Coastal 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 opportunities

General management opportunities 1

Lake Michigan forms the eastern boundary and is a dominant feature of the Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. Most of the immediate shoreline is upland and has undergone extensive development to serve agricultural, residential, recreational and urban-industrial uses. Many important protection and management opportunities are associated with Lake Michigan shoreline features such as beaches and dunes, ridge and swale complexes, alvar, ravines with native conifers, coastal forests and marshes and migratory bird concentration areas.

Lower Green Bay and the mouth of the Fox River comprise a highly disturbed but rich ecosystem that includes the shallow waters of the Lower Bay, islands that support rookeries of fish-eating birds and extensive coastal marshes and other wetland communities now concentrated west of the Fox River's mouth and along the Bay's west shore. Important marsh complexes of Lower Green Bay include Long Tail Point, Little Tail Point, Peats Lake and, east of the Fox River, Point Au Sable. All of these are heavily used by migratory and resident waterfowl and other birds. In recent decades the marsh vegetation has undergone a drastic shift in dominance from diverse assemblages of native species to the highly invasive non-native common reed, narrow-leaved cat-tail and hybrid cat-tail. Protection of the remaining coastal marshes is a top priority, as is monitoring the impacts and effectiveness of the ongoing large-scale restoration attempts.

A majority of the natural vegetation remaining in the western part of the landscape is associated with the Wolf River floodplain. Significant acreages of lowland hardwood forest, shrub swamp and marsh are present, along with smaller amounts of sedge meadow and mesic hardwood forest. The entire floodplain of the Wolf River merits protection, as almost everything around it is now heavily developed. Similarly, the only extensive areas of natural vegetation in the eastern part of the landscape are several isolated but large wetlands in southern Door and Kewaunee counties and at several other locations to the south and west. Most of these wetlands are forested, with stands of swamp hardwoods, white cedar, tamarack and floodplain forest. Much of this land is in multiple private ownerships, with relatively few large tracts. There is a need to conduct field surveys to identify sites that offer the best opportunities for management and protection partnerships.

Lake Michigan is used heavily by waterfowl and other waterbirds, and its shoreline is important for migratory birds of many kinds, including waterfowl, loons, grebes, gulls, terns, shorebirds, raptors and passerines. Providing or maintaining habitat for nesting, migratory and wintering birds along and near Lake Michigan and Green Bay are important conservation goals. Management opportunities include maintaining and restoring the integrity of locations on Lake Michigan and its shoreline that receive heavy bird use, as well as reforesting open locations along the shoreline for use as migratory stopover sites for land birds. There is also a need to provide stopover habitats at inland locations.

Several miscellaneous features are of at least local importance in the Central Lake Michigan Coastal. Examples that represent management opportunities include river and stream corridors, inland lakes, Ephemeral Ponds, remnant maple-beech forests, pine-oak forests and Surrogate Grasslands, the latter include some Great Lakes shoreline sites.

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


Central 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 Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. The Central 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