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Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape
Landscape at a Glance
|Physical & Biotic Environment|
7,725 square miles (4,943,731 acres), representing 13.8% of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.
Typical of southern Wisconsin; mean growing season of 155 days, mean annual temperature is 45.9 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 33.6 inches, and mean annual snowfall is 39.4 inches. The climate is suitable for agricultural row crops, small grains, and pastures, which are prevalent in this Ecological Landscape.
Primarily underlain by limestone and dolomite with some sandstone and shale. Generally covered by a thick layer of glacial deposits (>50 feet). The southernmost exposures of the Silurian dolomite "Niagara Escarpment" occur west and south of Lake Winnebago.
Geology & Landforms
The dominant landforms are glacial till plains and moraines composed mostly of materials deposited during the Wisconsin Ice Age, but the southwestern part of the Ecological Landscape consists of older, pre-Wisconsin till and the topography is more dissected. Other glacial landforms, including drumlins, outwash plains, eskers, kames and kettles are also well-represented kames, eskers, and kettles. The "Kettle Moraine" is an area of rough topography on the eastern side of the Southeast Glacial Plains that marks the areas of contact between the Green Bay and Lake Michigan glacial lobes. Numerous excellent examples of glacial features occur and are highly visible in the Kettle Moraine.
Soils are derived from lime-rich tills overlain in most areas by a silt-loam loess cap.
The Southeast Glacial Plains has the highest aquatic productivity for plants, insects, other invertebrates, and fish of any Ecological Landscape in the state. Significant river systems include the Wolf, Bark, Rock, Fox, Milwaukee, Sugar, Mukwonago, and Sheboygan. Most riparian zones have been degraded. Several clusters of large lakes exist, including the Yahara chain of lakes in and around Madison, and the Lake Winnebago Pool system. Kettle lakes occur within end moraines, in outwash channels, and in ancient riverbeds. This Ecological Landscape contains some huge marshes, as well as fens, sedge meadows, wet prairies, tamarack swamps, and floodplain forests. Many wetlands here have been affected by hydrologic modifications (ditching, diking, tiling), grazing, infestations of invasive plants, and excessive inputs of sediment- and nutrient-laden runoff from croplands.
Primarily agricultural cropland (58% of Landscape). Remaining forests occupy only 11% of the land area and major covertypes include maple-basswood, oak, lowland hardwoods, and conifer swamps (mostly tamarack-dominated). No large areas of upland forest exist except on the Kettle Interlobate Moraine, where the topography is too rugged to practice intensive agriculture and the soils are not always conducive to high crop productivity. Wetlands are extensive (12% of Landscape, 593,248 acres) and include large marshes and sedge meadows, and extensive forested lowlands within the Lower Wolf River floodplain. Forested lowlands are also significant along stretches of the Milwaukee, Sugar, and Rock rivers.
(based on data from Calumet, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green, Green Lake, Jefferson, Ozaukee, Rock, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, and Winnebago counties)
1,519,000, 28.5% of the state total
204 persons/ sq. mile
Per Capita Income
Important Economic Sectors
Manufacturing (non-wood) (13.9% v. statewide 11.7%); Government (12.6% v. statewide: 12.1%); Tourism-related (10.6% vs. statewide: 11.2%); Retail trade (9.2% v. statewide: 9.0%) sectors employed the most people in 2007 reflecting high non-wood manufacturing and government service. Although agriculture, residential development (and urbanization) and forestry do not have a large impact on the economy or the number of jobs, they are the sectors that have the largest impact on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape (in recent years groundwater withdrawals by municipalities to accommodate urban-industrial growth have raised concerns about protecting our water supplies, as well as lakes, stream, and wetlands).
Only four percent of the Southeast Glacial Plains is in public ownership (226,230 acres), of which 58% is wetland and 42% is upland. Major public lands include Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and Horicon State Wildlife Area, and the Northern and Southern Units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Other state lands here are managed for fish, wildlife, natural areas, and recreation. The Cedarburg Bog, an extensive wetland complex in southeastern Wisconsin, is owned by the University of Wisconsin system and the Wisconsin DNR. County-owned lands are not extensive but include ecologically significant features, including several ecologically important stretches of the Niagara Escarpment. A map entitled "Public Land Ownership and Private land enrolled in the Forest Tax Programs in the Southeast Glacial Plains" can be found at the end of this chapter.
Other Notable Ownerships
The Nature Conservancy, in cooperation with the Wisconsin DNR and others, has a major project designed to protect the Mukwonago River watershed (including Lulu Lake) in the southeastern part of the Ecological Landscape. The Waukesha County Land Conservancy has several active projects aimed at protecting lands of high ecological significance. Other NGOs, including the Madison Audubon Society and groups active in local preservation efforts in other counties, also have active conservation projects in the Southeast Glacial Plains.
|Considerations for Planning & Management|
The Southeast Glacial Plains is heavily developed and highly populated. Pressure on natural resources, including ground and surface waters, is high and unlikely to diminish in the short-term. The amount of impervious surface is increasing in some watersheds, raising concerns about our ability to protect sensitive aquatic life and associated wetlands. Fragmentation is severe and isolation of native habitats is a major concern. Many invasive species are now widespread, well established, and have expanding populations here. Public ownership is limited and partnerships between public and private partners will be essential to accomplish long-term management goals and objectives for natural resources.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has conducted biological inventories for the seven counties in which they have jurisdiction and identified important natural areas and sensitive species populations; all seven of the SEWRPC counties are at least partially located within the Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape. The Wisconsin DNR has also conducted biological inventory work throughout the Southeast Glacial Plains
While in general reconnecting isolated habitat patches is a positive, and ultimately often necessary, action, when habitats lacking invasives are identified planners and other stakeholders need to be sure be sure that pathways for colonization by invasive species have not been created or increased, and that control measures for both existing and future problems created by these species are anticipated and built into management plans and the budgeting process.
For the two units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, and at some of the larger wetland complexes (such as those at Horicon, along the Lower Wolf River, Sugar, and Milwaukee rivers, or in the Mukwonago River Watershed, planning at large scales will have many benefits to best ensure long-term viability of the resources present, as those areas offer many opportunities that smaller more isolated sites cannot.
Species of Greatest Conservation Need
The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in the Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan.
|Acadian Flycatcher||Empidonax virescens||3|
|American Bittern||Botaurus lentiginosus||3|
|American Golden Plover||Pluvialis dominica||3|
|American Woodcock||Scolopax minor||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|
|Buff-breasted Sandpiper||Tryngites subruficollis||3|
|Buff-breasted Sandpiper||Tryngites subruficollis||3|
|Cerulean Warbler||Dendroica cerulea||3|
|Common Tern||Sterna hirundo||3|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||3|
|Field Sparrow||Spizella pusilla||3|
|Forster's Tern||Sterna forsteri||3|
|Grasshopper Sparrow||Ammodramus savannarum||3|
|Henslow's Sparrow||Ammodramus henslowii||3|
|Hooded Warbler||Wilsonia citrina||3|
|Hudsonian Godwit||Limosa haemastica||3|
|King Rail||Rallus elegans||3|
|Least Flycatcher||Empidonax minimus||3|
|Lesser Scaup||Aythya affinis||3|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla||3|
|Northern Harrier||Circus cyaneus||3|
|Prothonotary Warbler||Protonotaria citrea||3|
|Red-headed Woodpecker||Melanerpes erythrocephalus||3|
|Red-necked Grebe||Podiceps grisegena||3|
|Rusty Blackbird||Euphagus carolinus||3|
|Short-billed Dowitcher||Limnodromus griseus||3|
|Short-eared Owl||Asio flammeus||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|
|Bell's Vireo||Vireo bellii||2|
|Golden-winged Warbler||Vermivora chrysoptera||2|
|Lark Sparrow||Chondestes grammacus||2|
|Loggerhead Shrike||Lanius ludovicianus||2|
|Marbled Godwit||Limosa fedoa||2|
|Northern Bobwhite||Colinus virginianus||2|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Buteo lineatus||2|
|Snowy Egret||Egretta thula||2|
|Solitary Sandpiper||Tringa solitaria||2|
|Upland Sandpiper||Bartramia longicauda||2|
|Wilson's Phalarope||Phalaropus tricolor||2|
|Yellow-crowned Night-Heron||Nyctanassa violacea||2|
|Yellow-throated Warbler||Dendroica dominica||2|
|American Black Duck||Anas rubripes||1|
|Bald Eagle||Haliaeetus leucocephalus||1|
|Barn Owl||Tyto alba||1|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||Dendroica caerulescens||1|
|Canada Warbler||Wilsonia canadensis||1|
|Horned Grebe||Podiceps auritus||1|
|Kentucky Warbler||Oporornis formosus||1|
|Red Crossbill||Loxia curvirostra||1|
|Trumpeter Swan||Cygnus buccinator||1|
|Gravel Chub||Erimystax x-punctatus||3|
|Greater Redhorse||Moxostoma valenciennesi||3|
|Lake Chubsucker||Erimyzon sucetta||3|
|Lake Sturgeon||Acipenser fulvescens||3|
|Least Darter||Etheostoma microperca||3|
|Longear Sunfish||Lepomis megalotis||3|
|Ozark Minnow||Notropis nubilus||3|
|Redfin Shiner||Lythrurus umbratilis||3|
|Redside Dace||Clinostomus elongatus||3|
|River Redhorse||Moxostoma carinatum||3|
|Slender Madtom||Noturus exilis||3|
|Starhead Topminnow||Fundulus dispar||3|
|Banded Killifish||Fundulus diaphanus||2|
|Black Buffalo||Ictiobus niger||2|
|Pugnose Shiner||Notropis anogenus||2|
|Western Sand Darter||Ammocrypta clara||2|
|American Eel||Anguilla rostrata||1|
|Reptiles and Amphibians||Score|
|Four-toed Salamander||Hemidactylium scutatum||3|
|Pickerel Frog||Rana palustris||3|
|Northern Cricket Frog||Acris crepitans||1|
|Franklin's Ground Squirrel||Spermophilus franklinii||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|
|Woodland Vole||Microtus pinetorum||2|
|Water Shrew||Sorex palustris||1|
Natural community management opportunities
The Southeast Glacial 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).
|Natural Community Type||Opportunity|
|Southern Dry Forest||Major|
|Southern Dry-mesic Forest||Major|
|Southern Sedge Meadow||Major|
|Southern Tamarack Swamp (rich)||Major|
|Emergent Marsh - Wild Rice||Important|
|Northern Hardwood Swamp||Important|
|Northern Sedge Meadow||Important|
|Northern Wet Forest||Important|
|Northern Wet-mesic Forest||Important|
|Southern Hardwood Swamp||Important|
|Southern Mesic Forest||Important|
|Northern Dry-mesic Forest||Present|
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
Although large portions of the Southeast Glacial Plains are now intensively developed agricultural or urban-industrial lands, there are major opportunities to maintain natural communities and provide critical habitat for many native species. Opportunities for managing on a larger scale are limited to a few areas.
The Kettle Moraine region features the least developed uplands in the entire landscape, much of it within the units of the Kettle Moraine State Forest (KMSF). Collectively, the KMSF arguably comprises the largest and most ecologically important public landholding in this part of the state. The Northern Unit of the KMSF features extensive upland forests, conifer and ash swamps, lakes, springs, marshes, Ephemeral Ponds and significant stretches of the Milwaukee River and its tributaries. This area is now southeastern Wisconsin's major breeding site for forest interior species, especially birds. There are opportunities here to develop, maintain and enlarge blocks of contiguous forested habitat that include large patches of older mesic and oak-dominated forests, patches of young forest, dense brush and areas where high contrast edge has been reduced.
The Southern Unit of the KMSF is a major repository of rare and diminished natural communities, especially oak savannas and woodlands, wet prairies, fens, sedge meadows and relict bogs. Each of these is a high priority for conservation because they are rare on state or global levels, include the best remaining occurrences and/or support many rare native plants and animals. Wisconsin's largest native grassland protection and restoration project, the Scuppernong River Habitat Area, is located within the KMSF - Southern Unit. Fire suppression, successional processes and tree planting have created blocks of forest in the Southern Unit of the KMSF that are now large enough to provide critical nesting habitat for forest interior species. Determining where to maintain such semi-natural habitats versus where to actively restore the globally rare savanna and woodland communities can be challenging and controversial, even where the protection and maintenance of biodiversity is a primary management objective.
Some wetlands in the Southeast Glacial Plains are large, in good condition and provide critical habitat for a host of sensitive species including large populations of breeding and migratory waterbirds, as well as other wetland inhabitants. Emergent marsh (including Horicon Marsh, the Upper Midwest's largest cat-tail marsh) is especially well-represented, but sedge meadow, calcareous fen, wet prairie and tamarack swamp are also important. The large complex of sedge meadow, marsh and wet prairie associated with the White and Puchyan rivers is also outstanding in terms of size and quality. The Lower Wolf River corridor features the most extensive forested floodplain in eastern Wisconsin and one of the largest emergent marshes.
The Mukwonago River watershed is the most intact watershed in this Ecological Landscape, as it features a spring-fed river system supporting a high diversity of fishes and aquatic invertebrates, extensive and floristically rich wetlands and is associated with remnant rare natural communities such as tallgrass prairie, calcareous fen, oak openings, oak woodland and relict bogs. Many rare species have been documented here. Private and public partners are working to protect, manage and restore many components of this watershed.
Lakes are concentrated in several areas, sometimes in association with end moraines, other times occupying glacial lakebeds and outwash channels. Shallow lakes are well-represented, and some of these are associated with extensive wetlands of marsh, sedge meadow and shrub-carr. Noteworthy warmwater streams include the Wolf, Mukwonago (some of the upper stretches are classified as "Coolwater"), Rock, Crawfish, Sugar, Milwaukee and Bark rivers. Most lakes here are now heavily developed.
Miscellaneous features of significance include southern Wisconsin's westernmost stands of mesic maple-beech forest, hardwood swamps, bog relicts and scattered surrogate grasslands. The southern extremities of the Niagara Escarpment occur here and provide habitat for rare invertebrates and plants, as well as the largest bat hibernaculum in the Upper Midwest.
1. The text presented here is a summarized version of a longer section developed for the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.
Southeast Glacial 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.
Southeast Glacial 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 Southeast Glacial Plains Ecological Landscape. The Southeast Glacial 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.
- 222Kc05. Partridge Lake Plain
- 222Kc04. Lind Moraines
- 222Kc06. Winnebago Lake Plain
- 222Kc03. Poygan Lake Plain
- 222Kc02. Oshkosh Moraines
- 222Kc01. Lake Winnebago
- 222Ke22. Lake Winnebago East Slopes
- 222Ke21. Charlesburg Till Plain
- 222Kc07. Redgranite Lake Plain
- 222Ke06. Millhome Moraines
- 222Ke16. Ladoga Till Plain
- 222Ke19. Mt. Calvary Moraine
- 222Ke20. Armstrong Plains
- 222Ke05. North Kettle Moraines
- 222Kf08. Beechwood Plains
- 222Kf06. Waubeka Moraines
- 222Ke15. Kewaskum Pains
- 222Ke18. Brownsville Till Plain
- 222Ke14. Allenton Drumlins
- 222Ke17. Horicon Marsh
- 222Ke13. Watertown Drumlins
- 222Kf07. West Bend Lake Plain
- 222Ke12. Beaver Dam Drumlins
- 222Ke04. Central Kettle Moraines
- 222Ke11. Bristol Till Plain
- 222Ke10. Oconomowoc Lakes
- 222Ke09. Jefferson Lake Plains
- 222Ke07. Waunakee Moraines
- 222Kf02. Waukesha Drumlins
- 222Ke08. Dane-Jefferson Drumlins and Lakes
- 222Ke01. West Johnstown-Milton Moraines
- 222Ke03. South Kettle Moraines
- 222Kf03. Heart Prairie-Burlington Plains
- 222Kh02. Sugar River Valley
- 222Ke02. East Johnstown-Milton Moraines
- 222Kh05. Orfordville Eroded Moraines
- 222Kf05. East Troy Lakes
- 222Kh03. Rock River Prairies
- 222Kh01. Monroe Eroded Moraines
- 222Kf01. Geneva Moraines
- 222Kf04. Wheatland Prairies
- 222Kh04. Bergen Moraines
- 222Kh06. Big Foot Prairies