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Andy Stoltman

Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape

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


1,950 square miles (1,248,126 acres); 3.5% of the land area of Wisconsin.


Typical of southern Wisconsin; the mean growing season is 153 days, mean annual temperature is 45.6 deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 35.2, and mean annual snowfall is 39.9 inches. However, the Southwest Savanna has the fourth longest growing season, the most precipitation, the third lowest snowfall, and second warmest January low temperature among Ecological Landscapes in the state. The climate tends to be warmer in the southwestern part of the state, which affects the ecology of the Southwest Savanna and also makes it suitable for most agricultural uses. 80% of this Ecological Landscape is devoted to row crops, small grains, and pastures.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


The Southwest Savanna Landscape is underlain by sedimentary bedrock, especially dolomites and sandstones.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

The Southwest Savanna is part of Wisconsin's Driftless Area, a region that has not been glaciated for at least the last 2.4 million years. The topography is characterized by broad, open ridgetops, deep valleys, and steep, wooded slopes.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Soils on hilltops are silt loams mostly silt loams. In some areas soils are shallow, with bedrock or stony red clay subsoil very close to or at the surface. In other locales the ridgetops have a deep cap of loess-derived silt loam (these are the most productive agricultural soils). Valley soils include alluvial sands, loams, and occasionally, peats.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


The drainage patterns of streams in the Southwest Savanna are dendritic, which is a pattern characteristic of unglaciated regions but absent or uncommon in most of Wisconsin. Flowing waters include warmwater rivers and streams, coldwater streams, and springs. Natural Lakes are virtually absent, though there are a few associated with the floodplains of the larger rivers. Natural lakes are rare but there are a few in the floodplains of the larger rivers, such as the Pecatonica. Impoundments and reservoirs have been constructed on some rivers and streams, and check dams have been built in ravines to hold storm and snow runoff.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Agricultural crops (corn, soybeans, small grains, hay) cover 70% of this Ecological Landscape, with lesser amounts of grassland (mostly pasture), forest, and residential areas. The major forest types are oak-hickory and maple-basswood. Prairie remnants of varying quality persist in a few places, mostly on rocky hilltops or slopes that are too steep to farm. Some pastures have never been plowed, and those that historically supported prairie may retain remnants of the former prairie flora. Pastures with scattered open-grown oaks still exist in some areas, mimicking oak savanna structure. A complement of native plants persists in some of these pastured savannas.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Iowa, Grant, Lafayette, and Green counties)


123,899, 2.2% of the state total

Population Density

39 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

Retail trade (15.2%); government (14.0); agriculture, fishing & hunting (13.8%); and manufacturing (non-wood) (9.1%) were the most important sectors in 2007 reflecting high dependence on retail trade, government and agriculture. Agriculture and residential development have the largest impact on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape at this time.

Public Ownership

About 96.5% of the land in the Southwest Savanna is privately owned while 3.5% belongs to state, county, or municipal governments. State-owned lands include Parks, Wildlife Areas, Fisheries Areas, Natural Areas, and one Recreation Area. These include Belmont Mound, New Glarus Woods, and Yellowstone Lake State Parks; part of Blue Mounds State Park; Browntown-Cadiz Springs State Recreation Area; Hardscrabble Prairie State Natural Area; Mount Vernon Creek State Fishery Area; and Yellowstone Lake State Wildlife Area. 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 several active projects here, including Thomson Memorial Prairie and Barneveld Prairie. Three chapters of The Prairie Enthusiasts (Southwest Wisconsin, Empire-Sauk, and Prairie Bluff) have been very active in this Ecological Landscape and have at least 10 projects underway in the Southwest Savanna. Pheasants Forever and the National Wild Turkey Federation are also very active in this Ecological Landscape.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

The need for partnerships between government agencies, NGOs, and private individuals are critical as less than 1% of the Ecological Landscape is publicly owned. Coordinated management of large areas will be difficult because of ownership patterns and the prevalence of intensively used agricultural land. Remnant prairies and savannas are small and often isolated, but in a few areas there are opportunities to develop partnerships that will accommodate a mix of active cropland, pasture, conservation reserve program lands, and reserves that feature high quality prairie and savanna remnants or other habitats known to be especially important to rare or otherwise sensitive species, including streams. The Southwest Wisconsin Grassland and Stream Conservation Area, a cooperative project involving many public and private partners, encompasses one of the best locations to accomplish this and is an excellent place in which to focus some of the grassland protection efforts at larger scales.  Learn more about management opportunities from the chapter [PDF]

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Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

See the key to association scores [PDF] for complete definitions.

Blanchard's Cricket FrogAcris blanchardi3
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris3

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis3
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus2
Silphium Terminal Gall WaspAntistrophus silphii2
A Cuckoo BeeEpeolus ainsliei1
An Anthophorid BeeNeolarra vigilans1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Broad-banded ForestsnailAllogona profunda2
Cherrystone DropHendersonia occulta2
Wing SnaggletoothGastrocopta procera2
Brilliant GranuleGuppya sterkii1
Dull GlossZonitoides limatulus1
Hubricht's VertigoVertigo hubrichti1
Smooth CoilHelicodiscus singleyanus1

A Hydroporus Diving BeetleHeterosternuta wickhami3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleCybister fimbriolatus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleNeoporus hybridus3
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis musgravei3
A Water Scavenger BeetleCymbiodyta toddi3
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis atomarius2
A Leaf BeetleCryptocephalus cuneatus2
A Predaceous Diving BeetlePlatambus confusus2
A Water Scavenger BeetleAgabetes acuductus2
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis peccans1
A Leaf BeetleSaxinis omogera1
A Leaf BeetleAltica litigata1
A Pear-shaped WeevilTrichapion perforicolle1
A Pear-shaped WeevilCoelocephalapion decoloratum1
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes1
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis antennalis1
Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida1
Sandy Stream Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera macra1
Virginia Big-headed Tiger BeetleTetracha virginica1

Bell's VireoVireo bellii3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii3
Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus3
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus3
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta3
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens3
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus2
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens1
American WoodcockScolopax minor1
Cerulean WarblerSetophaga cerulea1
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus1
Kentucky WarblerGeothlypis formosa1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus1
Long-eared OwlAsio otus1
Purple MartinProgne subis1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1
Worm-eating WarblerHelmitheros vermivorum1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Regal FritillarySpeyeria idalia3
A Noctuid MothBagisara gulnare2
Abbreviated Underwing MothCatocala abbreviatella2
Ottoe SkipperHesperia ottoe2
A Noctuid MothDichagyris reliqua1
Cross Line SkipperPolites origenes1
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone1
Leadplant Flower MothSchinia lucens1
Whitney's Underwing MothCatocala whitneyi1

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Clamp-tipped EmeraldSomatochlora tenebrosa1
Hine's EmeraldSomatochlora hineana1
Plains EmeraldSomatochlora ensigera1
Royal River CruiserMacromia taeniolata1
Sioux (Sand) SnaketailOphiogomphus smithi1
Spangled SkimmerLibellula cyanea1
Springwater DancerArgia plana1

Slender MadtomNoturus exilis3
Gravel ChubErimystax x-punctatus2
Ozark MinnowNotropis nubilus2
Black BuffaloIctiobus niger1
Black RedhorseMoxostoma duquesnei1
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Bog ConeheadNeoconocephalus lyristes3
Handsome GrasshopperSyrbula admirabilis3
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis3
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus2
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa2
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus2
Green-streak GrasshopperHesperotettix viridis2
Obscure GrasshopperOpeia obscura2
Plains Yellow-winged GrasshopperArphia simplex2
Seaside GrasshopperTrimerotropis maritima2
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna2
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata1
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus1
Delicate Meadow KatydidOrchelimum delicatum1
Gladston's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus gladstoni1
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
Showy GrasshopperHesperotettix speciosus1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei1
Velvet-striped GrasshopperEritettix simplex1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperMemnonia panzeri3
A LeafhopperKansendria kansiensis3
Prairie LeafhopperPolyamia dilata3
A LeafhopperDriotura robusta2
A LeafhopperCuerna sayi2
A LeafhopperLaevicephalus vannus2
A LeafhopperAttenuipyga vanduzeei2
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius nebulosus2
A LeafhopperPrairiana angustens2
A LeafhopperPrairiana cinerea2
A LeafhopperPrairiana kansana2
A PlanthopperMyndus ovatus2
An Issid PlanthopperBruchomorpha extensa2
Red-tailed Prairie LeafhopperAflexia rubranura2
Yellow Loosestrife LeafhopperErythroneura carbonata2
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius altus1
A LeafhopperFlexamia prairiana1
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata1
An Issid PlanthopperFitchiella robertsonii1

Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus3
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus3
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii3
Eastern PipistrellePerimyotis subflavus2
Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum2
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster1
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans1
Water ShrewSorex palustris1

A Common Burrower MayflyPentagenia vittigera3
A Flat-headed MayflyMacdunnoa persimplex3
Fox Small Square-gilled MayflyCercobrachys fox3
Pecatonica River MayflyAcanthametropus pecatonica3
A Small Minnow MayflyParacloeodes minutus2
Wisconsin Small Square-gilled MayflyCercobrachys lilliei2
A Brush-legged MayflyHomoeoneuria ammophila1
A MayflyAmeletus lineatus1
Winnebago Small Square-gilled MayflyCercobrachys winnebago1

Mussels and clamsScore
ElktoeAlasmidonta marginata1

Lined SnakeTropidoclonion lineatum3
North American RacerColuber constrictor3
Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii2
GophersnakePituophis catenifer1
Gray RatsnakePantherophis spiloides1
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix1
Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridus1
Western WormsnakeCarphophis vermis1

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."

Scientific Name Common Name Score
Arnoglossum plantagineum Prairie Indian-plantain 3
Asclepias lanuginosa Woolly Milkweed 3
Camassia scilloides Wild Hyacinth 3
Cirsium hillii Hill's Thistle 3
Diarrhena obovata Ovate Beak Grass 3
Echinacea pallida Pale Purple Coneflower 3
Lechea mucronata Hairy Pinweed 3
Lespedeza leptostachya Prairie Bush Clover 3
Napaea dioica Glade Mallow 3
Pediomelum esculentum Prairie Turnip 3
Thaspium trifoliatum var. flavum Purple Meadow Parsnip 3
Agalinis gattingeri Roundstem Foxglove 2
Asclepias purpurascens Purple Milkweed 2
Baptisia tinctoria Yellow Wild-indigo 2
Boechera dentata Short's Rock-cress 2
Botrychium campestre Prairie Dunewort 2
Carex laevivaginata Smooth-sheathed Sedge 2
Chaerophyllum procumbens Spreading Chervil 2
Cuscuta coryli Hazel Dodder 2
Cuscuta polygonorum Knotweed Dodder 2
Gymnocarpium robertianum Limestone Oak Fern 2
Hydrophyllum appendiculatum Great Water-leaf 2
Jeffersonia diphylla Twinleaf 2
Melica nitens Three-flowered Melic Grass 2
Nuphar advena Yellow Water Lily 2
Paronychia canadensis Smooth Forked Nail-wort 2
Prenanthes crepidinea Nodding Rattlesnake-root 2
Scutellaria ovata ssp. ovata Heart-leaved Skullcap 2
Silene virginica Fire Pink 2
Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata October Lady's-tresses 2
Triphora trianthophora Nodding Pogonia 2
Aplectrum hyemale Putty Root 1
Besseya bullii Kitten Tails 1
Carex prasina Drooping Sedge 1
Cypripedium candidum White Lady's-slipper 1
Desmodium perplexum Perplexed Tick-trefoil 1
Hydrastis canadensis Golden-seal 1
Juglans cinerea Butternut 1
Phemeranthus rugospermus Prairie Fame-flower 1
Platanthera flava var. herbiola Pale Green Orchid 1
Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas Fern 1
Polytaenia nuttallii Prairie Parsley 1
Prenanthes aspera Rough Rattlesnake-root 1
Silene nivea Snowy Campion 1
Spiranthes magnicamporum Great Plains Lady's-tresses 1
Sullivantia sullivantii Sullivant's Cool-wort 1
Valeriana edulis var. ciliata Hairy Valerian 1
Verbena simplex Narrow-leaved Vervain 1

Community opportunities

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community management opportunities

The Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape contains opportunities to manage for the following natural communities, based on the findings in the 2015 Wildlife Action Plan (originally presented by the Ecosystem Management Team).

See the key to association scores [PDF] for complete definitions.

General opportunities

General management opportunities 1

The Southwest Savanna was once dominated by fire-dependant natural communities representing the continuum of prairie, oak savanna, oak woodland and oak forest. Now dominated mostly by agricultural lands, and with less than one percent in public ownership, this landscape still offers good opportunities to maintain expansive grassland and savanna habitats through public / private partnerships. Restoration and management of the entire continuum of fire-dependent natural communities native to southern Wisconsin is possible here.

This is arguably Wisconsin's best ecological landscape to manage grasslands at large scales. Native grasslands are rare here, as they are throughout the upper Midwest. However, some of the scattered remnants support rare plants, invertebrates, herptiles, birds and other animals. In addition, abundant surrogate grasslands can provide the scale needed by area-sensitive species and in some cases can connect isolated prairie patches. Large areas of surrogate grasslands can buffer prairie and savanna remnants from more intensively managed land, and there are sometimes opportunities to embed remnants within large acreages of CRP, fallow agricultural land, pasture, or cropland. The surrogate grasslands may also provide missing environmental gradients of soil types, soil moisture, slope and aspect, which may be needed for the vegetation to adapt to long-term environmental changes.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board recently approved a project that will protect and restore grassland and stream habitats in this Ecological Landscape: the "Southwest Wisconsin Grasslands and Streams Conservation Area." The project boundary encompasses high-priority grasslands, prairies, savanna remnants and watersheds across parts of southern Iowa, northern Lafayette, southwest Dane and far northwestern Green counties. This project represents major habitat management opportunities via numerous private-public partnerships.

Extensive areas of grazed but never plowed oak savanna occur at several locations in the Southwest Savanna. Survey needs include the identification of prairie remnants, unplowed prairie and savanna pastures and other sites with diverse native flora. Floristically diverse remnants adjoining or embedded within extensive surrogate grasslands will offer the best restoration and management opportunities.

Rivers and streams here afford opportunities to manage and conserve native aquatic species and their habitats as well as recreational opportunities. The identification of aquatic habitats known to support sensitive species provides a starting point on which to focus restoration and protection efforts. Some sites will offer good opportunities to merge terrestrial and aquatic conservation projects.

Miscellaneous management opportunities in the Southwest Savanna include scattered hardwood forests, conifer relicts, springs and spring runs and rare species populations. At some sites there are good opportunities to maintain, restore and manage these features, including restoration of oak forests that are succeeding to more shade and browse-tolerant species. Conifer relicts could be mapped and monitored. The long-term viability of these relicts, especially Hemlock Relicts, is unknown and needs further investigation.

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


Southwest Savanna 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 Southwest Savanna Ecological Landscape. The Southwest Savanna 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: July 16, 2020

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