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Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape

Download the Central 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 Central 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


2,742 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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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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).

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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.  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 Central Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

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

Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum3
Blanchard's Cricket FrogAcris blanchardi1
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris1

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus1
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Indiscriminate Cuckoo Bumble BeeBombus insularis1
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Cherrystone DropHendersonia occulta3
Ribbed StriateStriatura exigua3
Black StriateStriatura ferrea2
Deep-throated VertigoVertigo nylanderi2
Dentate SupercoilParavitrea multidentata2
Hubricht's VertigoVertigo hubrichti2
Transparent Vitrine SnailVitrina angelicae2
Appalachian PillarCochlicopa morseana1
Bright GlyphGlyphyalinia wheatleyi1
Brilliant GranuleGuppya sterkii1
Eastern Flat-whorlPlanogyra asteriscus1
Sculpted GlyphGlyphyalinia rhoadsi1

A Hydroporus Diving BeetleHeterosternuta wickhami3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleCybister fimbriolatus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleIlybius angustior3
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis quadrimaculata3
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis musgravei3
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis fuscata3
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis antennalis3
A Water Scavenger BeetleAgabetes acuductus3
A Water Scavenger BeetleHydrochara leechi3
A Water Scavenger BeetleCymbiodyta toddi3
Cantrall's Bog BeetleLiodessus cantralli3
Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis rhodensis3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus discolor2
Northern Barrens Tiger BeetleCicindela patruela patruela2
Robust Dubiraphian Riffle BeetleDubiraphia robusta2
A Straight-snouted WeevilEutrichapion huron1
Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida1
Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis hirticollis1
Sandy Stream Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera macra1

American WoodcockScolopax minor3
Black TernChlidonias niger3
Black-crowned Night-HeronNycticorax nycticorax3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Cerulean WarblerSetophaga cerulea3
Common TernSterna hirundo3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Forster's TernSterna forsteri3
Great EgretArdea alba3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus3
Prothonotary WarblerProtonotaria citrea3
Purple MartinProgne subis3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens2
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
Caspian TernHydroprogne caspia2
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus2
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera2
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum2
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii2
Hooded WarblerSetophaga citrina2
King RailRallus elegans2
Least BitternIxobrychus exilis2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus2
Piping PloverCharadrius melodus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta2
Wilson's PhalaropePhalaropus tricolor2
Yellow-crowned Night-HeronNyctanassa violacea2
Yellow-headed BlackbirdXanthocephalus xanthocephalus2
Black-necked StiltHimantopus mexicanus1
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus1
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor1
Long-eared OwlAsio otus1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1
Rufa Red KnotCalidris canutus rufa1
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Phyllira Tiger MothGrammia phyllira2
Columbine Dusky WingErynnis lucilius1
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone1
Mottled Dusky WingErynnis martialis1
Semirelict Underwing MothCatocala semirelicta1
Swamp MetalmarkCalephelis muticum1

A Fingernet CaddisflyWormaldia shawnee3
A Fingernet CaddisflyWormaldia moesta3

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Hine's EmeraldSomatochlora hineana3
Double-striped BluetEnallagma basidens2
Slaty SkimmerLibellula incesta2
Smoky RubyspotHetaerina titia2
Swamp DarnerEpiaeschna heros2
Clamp-tipped EmeraldSomatochlora tenebrosa1
Delta-spotted SpiketailCordulegaster diastatops1
Forcipate EmeraldSomatochlora forcipata1
Incurvate EmeraldSomatochlora incurvata1
Lilypad ForktailIschnura kellicotti1
Mottled DarnerAeshna clepsydra1
Plains EmeraldSomatochlora ensigera1
Pronghorn ClubtailGomphus graslinellus1
Spatterdock DarnerRhionaeschna mutata1
Unicorn ClubtailArigomphus villosipes1

Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum2
Shoal ChubMacrhybopsis hyostoma2
American EelAnguilla rostrata1
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta1
Longear SunfishLepomis megalotis1
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus3
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus3
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi3
Seaside GrasshopperTrimerotropis maritima3
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei3
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa2
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida2
Crackling Forest GrasshopperTrimerotropis verruculata2
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus2
Lake Huron LocustTrimerotropis huroniana2
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata1
Bog ConeheadNeoconocephalus lyristes1
Bruner's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus bruneri1
Delicate Meadow KatydidOrchelimum delicatum1
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus1
Handsome GrasshopperSyrbula admirabilis1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Obscure GrasshopperOpeia obscura1
Rocky Mountain Sprinkled LocustChloealtis abdominalis1
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperLimotettix elegans3
A LeafhopperDestria crocea1

Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus3
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus3
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus1
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii1
Water ShrewSorex palustris1
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis1
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum1

A Common Burrower MayflyPentagenia vittigera1
A Flat-headed MayflyMaccaffertium pulchellum1
A Small Minnow MayflyPlauditus cestus1
A Small Minnow MayflyParacloeodes minutus1

Mussels and clamsScore
Slippershell MusselAlasmidonta viridis3
BuckhornTritogonia verrucosa2
ElktoeAlasmidonta marginata2
EllipseVenustaconcha ellipsiformis2
MapleleafQuadrula quadrula2
Salamander MusselSimpsonaias ambigua2
SnuffboxEpioblasma triquetra2
MonkeyfaceTheliderma metanevra1
Rainbow ShellVillosa iris1

Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii2
Butler's GartersnakeThamnophis butleri2
Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta2
Eastern RibbonsnakeThamnophis sauritus1

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
Cakile edentula var. lacustris American Sea-rocket 3
Calamovilfa longifolia var. magna Sand Reedgrass 3
Carex formosa Handsome Sedge 3
Cirsium pitcheri Pitcher's Thistle 3
Coreopsis lanceolata Sand Coreopsis 3
Euphorbia polygonifolia Seaside Spurge 3
Orobanche fasciculata Clustered Broomrape 3
Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas Fern 3
Salix cordata Sand Dune Willow 3
Trillium nivale Snow Trillium 3
Adlumia fungosa Climbing Fumitory 2
Botrychium campestre Prairie Dunewort 2
Carex digitalis var. digitalis Slender Wood Sedge 2
Carex gracilescens Slender Sedge 2
Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin Northern Yellow Lady's-slipper 2
Cystopteris laurentiana Laurentian Bladder Fern 2
Dryopteris filix-mas Male Fern 2
Elymus lanceolatus ssp. psammophilus Thickspike 2
Erigenia bulbosa Harbinger-of-spring 2
Eurybia furcata Forked Aster 2
Galium brevipes Swamp Bedstraw 2
Galium palustre Marsh Bedstraw 2
Gymnocarpium robertianum Limestone Oak Fern 2
Hydrastis canadensis Golden-seal 2
Hydrophyllum appendiculatum Great Water-leaf 2
Jeffersonia diphylla Twinleaf 2
Juglans cinerea Butternut 2
Penstemon hirsutus Hairy Beardtongue 2
Penstemon pallidus Pale Beardtongue 2
Pterospora andromedea Giant Pinedrops 2
Ranunculus cymbalaria Seaside Crowfoot 2
Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac 2
Solidago simplex var. gillmanii Dune Goldenrod 2
Trisetum melicoides Purple False Oats 2
Viola rostrata Long-spurred Violet 2
Asclepias hirtella Green Milkweed 1
Astragalus neglectus Cooper's Milkvetch 1
Carex lenticularis Shore Sedge 1
Carex nigra Smooth Black Sedge 1
Carex sychnocephala Many-headed Sedge 1
Conioselinum chinense Hemlock-parsley 1
Desmodium perplexum Perplexed Tick-trefoil 1
Eleocharis compressa var. compressa Flat-stemmed Spike-rush 1
Iris lacustris Dwarf Lake Iris 1
Malaxis monophyllos var. brachypoda White Adder's-mouth 1
Phegopteris hexagonoptera Broad Beech Fern 1
Plantago cordata Heart-leaved Plantain 1
Ptelea trifoliata ssp. trifoliata var. trifoliata Wafer-ash 1
Ruellia humilis Hairy Wild Petunia 1
Sceptridium oneidense Blunt-lobe Grape-fern 1
Scutellaria parvula var. parvula Small Skullcap 1
Strophostyles leiosperma Small-flowered Woolly Bean 1
Thalictrum revolutum Waxleaf Meadowrue 1
Triantha glutinosa False Asphodel 1
Triglochin palustris Slender Bog Arrow-grass 1

Community opportunities

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

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 2015 Wildlife Action Plan (originally presented by the Ecosystem Management Team).

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

Natural Community Type Opportunity
Dry CliffMajor
Great Lakes BeachMajor
Great Lakes DuneMajor
Great Lakes Ridge and SwaleMajor
Lacustrine Mud FlatMajor
Lake MichiganMajor
Warmwater riversMajor
Warmwater streamsMajor
Bedrock GladeImportant
Caves and Subterranean CulturalImportant
Clay Seepage BluffImportant
Coolwater streamsImportant
Emergent MarshImportant
Ephemeral PondImportant
Floating-leaved MarshImportant
Floodplain ForestImportant
Interdunal WetlandImportant
Moist CliffImportant
Northern Dry Mesic--late seralImportant
Northern Hardwood SwampImportant
Northern Mesic Forest--late seralImportant
Northern Sedge MeadowImportant
Northern Wet ForestImportant
Northern Wet-mesic ForestImportant
Riverine Mud FlatImportant
Shrub CarrImportant
Southern Dry-mesic ForestImportant
Southern Mesic ForestImportant
Southern Sedge MeadowImportant
Submergent MarshImportant
Surrogate GrasslandsImportant
Alder ThicketPresent
Black Spruce SwampPresent
Bog RelictPresent
Coldwater streamsPresent
Conifer PlantationPresent
Eastern Red-cedar ThicketPresent
Forested SeepPresent
Large Lake--deep, hard, drainagePresent
Large Lake--deep, hard, seepagePresent
Large Lake--deep, soft, drainagePresent
Large Lake--deep, soft+, seepagePresent
Large Lake--shallow, hard, seepagePresent
Large Lake--shallow, soft, drainagePresent
Large Lake--shallow, soft, seepagePresent
Northern Tamarack SwampPresent
Open BogPresent
Poor FenPresent
Riverine Impoundment - ReservoirsPresent
Riverine Lake - PondPresent
Sand PrairiePresent
Small Lake--hard, bogPresent
Small Lake--otherPresent
Small Lake--soft, bogPresent
Southern Hardwood SwampPresent
Spring Pond, Lake--SpringPresent
Springs and Spring Runs (Hard)Present
Springs and Spring Runs (Soft)Present
Wild Rice MarshPresent

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.


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: 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