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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

Northeast Sands Ecological Landscape

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


1,542 square miles (987,176 acres), representing 2.8% of the land area of the state, making it the fifth smallest Ecological Landscape in the state.


The short growing season (122 days) is similar to other northern Ecological Landscapes and limits yield potential for row crop agriculture. January minimum temperatures average higher than other northern Ecological Landscapes. The average August maximum temperature (78.8o) is the third coolest of any other Ecological Landscape in the state.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Precambrian bedrock of volcanic and metamorphic origin, formed during the Lower Proterozoic (roughly 2,500 to 1,050 million years ago) almost completely underlies the Northeast Sands. The northern part of the Ecological Landscape is notable for its many waterfalls, almost all of which are associated with this ancient bedrock. Cambrian sandstone, with some dolomite and shale, underlies a small area along the eastern edge of the Ecological Landscape. In some places, glacial deposits are thin enough that bedrock directly affects vegetation, and is sometimes exposed at the surface.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

The Green Bay Lobe covered this Ecological Landscape during the last part of the Wisconsin Glaciation. As the Green Bay Lobe melted and retreated eastward, outwash was deposited over lower-lying surface features, so the Ecological Landscape now appears as a nearly level to rolling sandy outwash plain, pitted in places, with sandy heads-of-outwash and loamy moraines protruding through the outwash sediment. Heads-of-outwash, uncommon in most of Wisconsin, are a distinctive glacial feature here. A series of north-south trending morainal and head-of-outwash hills runs the length of the west side of this Ecological Landscape. They are oriented in roughly parallel positions, marking the outer extent of Green Bay Lobe deposits in northeastern Wisconsin.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Most upland soils formed in acid outwash sand on outwash plains or outwash heads. The dominant soil is excessively drained and sandy with a loamy sand surface, rapid permeability, and very low available water capacity. More than half the land surface is made up of outwash sand and gravel. Glacial till deposits here have pH values that are neutral to calcareous, unlike the acid tills of most of northern Wisconsin, because dolomite was incorporated into the till as glaciers passed over the Niagara Escarpment.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Rivers and streams include the Menominee, Peshtigo, Pike, Pine, Oconto, South Branch of the Oconto, and Wolf rivers. Scattered lakes are present, with local concentrations of small lakes in the far north, far south, and the northeast. Several large impoundments have been constructed, such as those on the Menominee and Peshtigo rivers. Hwy 64 bisects the Brazeau Swamp, one of Wisconsin's largest cedar swamps, disrupting its hydrology and altering composition and function. A large portion of this swamp was cleared and drained and is now a "muck farm" used to grow vegetables.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Forests cover about 75% of this Ecological Landscape. Aspen is the most abundant cover type, and dry forests dominated by scrub-oak and jack pine are common. Plantation-grown pine, hemlock-hardwoods and northern hardwoods are also among the important upland cover types. Common lowland communities include wet-mesic forests dominated by northern white cedar, black spruce-tamarack swamps, and alder-dominated shrub swamps. Agriculture (only 7% of the area) is concentrated mostly in the southeastern and northernmost portions of the Ecological Landscape.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Florence, Marinette, Oconto and Menominee counties)


89,421, 1.6% of the state total

Population Density

27 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

These include government (16.5%); manufacturing (non-wood) (16.1%); tourism-related (11.8%); and health care and social services (9.6%) sectors in 2007. Forestry has the largest overall impact on the natural resources of the Ecological Landscape.

Public Ownership

Notable properties include the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Peshtigo River State Forest, Governor Tommy Thompson State Park, Peshtigo Brook State Wildlife Area, the Pine-Popple Wild Rivers, the Menominee River Natural Resources Area, and scattered State Natural Areas, including Dunbar Barrens and Spread Eagle Barrens. Lands owned and managed by Florence, Marinette, and Oconto counties comprise over two-thirds of the public acreage, mostly as county forests, but including several small areas managed as county parks. 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 eastern part of the Menominee Reservation is in the Northeast Sands. Several Land Trusts are situated and have active projects in this part of Wisconsin.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

Public lands are extensive, and there are significant tribal holdings in the southern part of the Northeast Sands. As in other parts of Wisconsin, high populations of white-tailed deer continue to have significant negative impacts on important forest dominants such as northern white cedar and eastern hemlock, as well as on understory composition and structure. Hydrologic modifications include large dams on several of the major rivers, including the Menominee, Peshtigo, and Pine. Shoreline development, especially along rivers and streams, is a significant concern and is likely to increase in the future. Several invasive species are established here, and others are likely to appear in the near future. There is currently a shortage of older forest and large forest patches; these issues could be addressed during the public lands planning process. Prescribed fire is a potentially important management tool at many locations in this Ecological Landscape. Jack pine, scrub oak, and aspen are all well-represented and important tree species to manage here.  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 Northeast Sands 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 WoodcockScolopax minor3
Bald EagleHaliaeetus leucocephalus3
Black-billed CuckooCoccyzus erythropthalmus3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum3
Field SparrowSpizella pusilla3
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
OspreyPandion haliaetus3
Red CrossbillLoxia curvirostra3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
VeeryCatharus fuscescens3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Whip-poor-willCaprimulgus vociferus3
Wood ThrushHylocichla mustelina3
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
Canada WarblerWilsonia canadensis2
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus2
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis2
Northern HarrierCircus cyaneus2
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Sharp-tailed GrouseTympanuchus phasianellus2
Solitary SandpiperTringa solitaria2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
American Golden PloverPluvialis dominica1
Black TernChlidonias niger1
Black-backed WoodpeckerPicoides arcticus1
Black-throated Blue WarblerDendroica caerulescens1
Blue-winged TealAnas discors1
Blue-winged WarblerVermivora pinus1
Boreal ChickadeePoecile hudsonica1
CanvasbackAythya valisineria1
DickcisselSpiza americana1
DunlinCalidris alpina1
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna1
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii1
Horned GrebePodiceps auritus1
Hudsonian GodwitLimosa haemastica1
Kirtland's WarblerDendroica kirtlandii1
Lesser ScaupAythya affinis1
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Marbled GodwitLimosa fedoa1
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi1
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus1
Spruce GrouseFalcipennis canadensis1
Trumpeter SwanCygnus buccinator1
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta1
WhimbrelNumenius phaeopus1
Willow FlycatcherEmpidonax traillii1
Yellow-billed CuckooCoccyzus americanus1

Scores: 3 = "Significantly Associated," 2 = "Moderately Associated," and 1 = "Minimally Associated."
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
Greater RedhorseMoxostoma valenciennesi1
Western Sand DarterAmmocrypta clara1

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
Gray WolfCanis lupus2
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis2
Eastern Red BatLasiurus borealis1
Hoary BatLasiurus cinereus1
MooseAlces alces1
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis1
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans1

Community opportunities

Natural community management opportunities

The Northeast Sands 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

Roughly 75% of the Northeast Sands is forested, playing an important role in the landscape's high water quality, providing extensive forest habitat, supporting local economies and offering many management opportunities. Opportunities exist to maintain large habitat patches and improve connectivity between smaller forest patches; both of these would help avoid problems associated with fragmentation and isolation and should benefit area-sensitive species. Older forests are scarce here, as they are in most of the state, and working forests could include areas with extended rotations, the development of old-growth characteristics and/or stands of "managed old-growth."

Dry forest types are prevalent, but many other types are also significant. Many forests here are now managed for aspen, but there are good opportunities to maintain dry forests of other early successional species such as jack pine and scrub oak, as well as older mesic forests of beech-hemlock, dry-mesic forests of white and red pine and wet-mesic forests of white cedar. Northern Wet-mesic Forests dominated by white cedar are common here; these forests have high ecological value and support numerous rare or uncommon plants and animals, but they are susceptible to negative impacts from hydrological modifications and excessive browse pressure. Good opportunities to protect this fragile natural community occur on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, within several state wildlife areas and on the Marinette and Oconto County Forests.

Barrens and bracken grassland communities, once a much more common feature here, represent important restoration and management opportunities, and active projects are underway at several locations. Some of these projects could be expanded and/or made more compatible with management of adjoining dry forests. Where possible, early successional forests could be managed in association with remnant barrens and bracken grasslands to increase connectivity between open areas that are now isolated, increasing effective habitat size, reducing undesirable edge impacts and supporting additional open country animals.

Several Northeast Sands streams offer opportunities to protect aquatic habitats of high biodiversity value. There are good opportunities to protect and maintain river and stream corridors, including those of the Menominee, Peshtigo, Oconto, Wolf, Pine, Pike and some of their tributaries. Some of the streams are bordered by bedrock outcroppings, stands of conifers and/or relatively old forest, which support, or have the potential to support, species that are rare elsewhere in the Ecological Landscape and surrounding region.

Bedrock features, such as cliffs, glades and talus slopes, are well represented in some parts of the Northeast Sands, and these merit protection for their unusual biota, as well as the aesthetic and recreational interest they stimulate. Other miscellaneous features of potentially high local and regional ecological value include undeveloped lakes and ponds, bogs, fens, sedge meadows, marshes and alder swamps.

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


Northeast Sands 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 Northeast Sands Ecological Landscape. The Northeast Sands 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