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Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Pine Barrens

State Rank: S2     Global Rank: G2   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Pine Barrens in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

This savanna community is typically characterized by scattered jack pines (Pinus banksiana), or less commonly, red pines (Pinus resinosa), sometimes mixed with scrubby northern pin and bur oaks. The scattered trees or groves are interspersed with openings in which shrubs such as hazelnuts (Corylus americana and C. cornuta), sand cherry (Prunus pumila), and prairie willow (Salix humilis) are prominent, along with prairie grasses and forbs. The groundlayer often contains species characteristic of "heaths", such as blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium and V. myrtilloides), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), and sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina). Other characteristic plants include dry sand prairie species such as June grass ( Koeleria macrantha), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), silky and azure asters (Symphyotrichum sericeum and S. oolentangiense), wild lupine (Lupinus perennis), blazing-stars (Liatris aspera and L. cylindracea), and western sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis). Pines may now be infrequent, even absent, in some stands in northern Wisconsin and elsewhere due to past logging, altered fire regimes, and an absence of seed source. In extreme cases, the pines have been virtually eliminated and oak sprouts and shrubs are now the dominant woody species.

The pine and oak barrens communities described by Curtis (1959) share many similarities. In general, there is a loss in the number and abundance of prairie species from south to north, and pine was more characteristic of the northern stands. However, jack pine is an important component of some of Wisconsin's southernmost barrens occurrences (e.g., Gotham Jack Pines on the Wisconsin River in Richland County), and both red pine savanna and jack pine barrens were described in the Public Land Survey notes for Juneau County in central Wisconsin. Maintaining pine in some of the managed stands has been challenging for managers. Frequent fires can cause the local elimination of species like the pines that don't sprout from the root collar. Also, in some parts of Wisconsin, jack pine does not have serotinous cones, which open under the intense heat generated by wildfire, and can then reseed burned areas in which the adult pines have been killed.

The pine barrens community occurs on landforms that include outwash plains, glacial lakeplains, and broad sandy terraces that flank some of the major rivers in southern Wisconsin. Soils are almost always dry and sandy, of low nutrient status, and in topography that is often nearly level, but can be gently rolling. Similar communities include oak barrens, bracken grassland, sand prairie, northern dry forest, central sands pine-oak forest, and bedrock glade.

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Pine Barrens natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus1
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Indiscriminate Cuckoo Bumble BeeBombus insularis1
Sanderson's Bumble BeeBombus sandersoni1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Wing SnaggletoothGastrocopta procera1

A Leaf BeetleDistigmoptera impennata3
Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida3
Northern Barrens Tiger BeetleCicindela patruela patruela3
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis luridus2
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis peccans1
A Leaf BeetleCryptocephalus venustus1
A Leaf BeetleGlyptina leptosoma1
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes1
Virginia Big-headed Tiger BeetleTetracha virginica1

Common NighthawkChordeiles minor3
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus3
Kirtland's WarblerSetophaga kirtlandii3
Sharp-tailed GrouseTympanuchus phasianellus3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus2
Long-eared OwlAsio otus2
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus2
Spruce GrouseFalcipennis canadensis2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
American WoodcockScolopax minor1
Black-backed WoodpeckerPicoides arcticus1
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera1
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum1
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi1
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Bina Flower MothSchinia bina3
Chryxus ArcticOeneis chryxus3
Cobweb SkipperHesperia metea3
Doll's MeroloncheAcronicta dolli3
Frosted ElfinCallophrys irus3
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone3
Karner BlueLycaeides melissa samuelis3
Mottled Dusky WingErynnis martialis3
Northern BlueLycaeides idas3
Phlox MothSchinia indiana3
Sprague's PygarcticaPygarctia spraguei3
Cross Line SkipperPolites origenes2
Dusted SkipperAtrytonopsis hianna2
Owl-eyed Bird Dropping MothCerma cora2
Persius Dusky WingErynnis persius2
Phyllira Tiger MothGrammia phyllira1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa3
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus3
Rocky Mountain Sprinkled LocustChloealtis abdominalis3
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa3
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei3
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus2
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus2
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida2
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus2
Green-streak GrasshopperHesperotettix viridis2
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus2
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata1
Bruner's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus bruneri1
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus1
Gladston's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus gladstoni1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Obscure GrasshopperOpeia obscura1
Plains Yellow-winged GrasshopperArphia simplex1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperLaevicephalus vannus3
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius maculosus2
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata2
Prairie LeafhopperPolyamia dilata2
A LeafhopperPrairiana kansana1
An Issid PlanthopperBruchomorpha extensa1

Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii3
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus1
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii1
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster1
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis1

Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii3
Eastern MassasaugaSistrurus catenatus3
GophersnakePituophis catenifer3
Prairie SkinkPlestiodon septentrionalis3
Slender Glass LizardOphisaurus attenuatus3
Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta3
North American RacerColuber constrictor2
Gray RatsnakePantherophis spiloides1
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix1
Six-lined RacerunnerAspidoscelis sexlineata1

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

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
Artemisia frigida Prairie Sagebrush 1
Asclepias lanuginosa Woolly Milkweed 1
Asclepias ovalifolia Dwarf Milkweed 3
Boechera missouriensis Missouri Rock-cress 2
Callirhoe triangulata Clustered Poppy-mallow 1
Carex merritt-fernaldii Fernald's Sedge 3
Juncus marginatus Grassleaf Rush 2
Leucophysalis grandiflora Large-flowered Ground-cherry 2
Opuntia fragilis Brittle Prickly-pear 2
Penstemon hirsutus Hairy Beardtongue 2
Penstemon pallidus Pale Beardtongue 2
Phemeranthus rugospermus Prairie Fame-flower 2
Piptatheropsis canadensis Canada Mountain Ricegrass 2
Pseudognaphalium micradenium Catfoot 2
Sisyrinchium albidum White Blue-eyed-grass 1
Vaccinium cespitosum Dwarf Bilberry 3
Vaccinium pallidum Blue Ridge Blueberry 2
Viola sagittata var. ovata Sand Violet 3


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Pine Barrens, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological LandscapeOpportunity
Central Sand PlainsMajor
Northeast SandsMajor
Northwest SandsMajor
Central Sand HillsImportant
Western Coulee and RidgesImportant
Northern HighlandPresent

Major (3 on map)
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.

Important (2 on map)
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.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


The following are additional considerations for Pine Barrens in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Sand Hills

Pine barrens are not well represented in this Ecological Landscape, but there are good opportunities for restoration at small to medium scales. Opportunities occur at Rocky Run Savanna State Natural Area (Columbia County) and Emmons Creek State Fishery Area (Portage County).

Central Sand Plains

The large public land base in the Central Sand Plains Ecological Landscape can be used to accomplish barrens restoration and management objectives. Opportunities to develop partnerships with private groups should be explored and fostered. Restoration and management efforts are underway at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (Juneau County), Bauer-Brockway Barrens (Jackson County Forest), Quincy Bluff and Wetlands State Natural Area (Adams County), and Sandhill State Wildlife Area (Wood County). There are legitimate restoration opportunities on the Black River State Forest (Jackson County).

Northeast Sands

Many sites in this Ecological Landscape are similar to bracken grasslands, though they do contain prairie elements. Spread Eagle Barrens State Natural Area (Florence County), Athelstane Barrens (Marinette County), and Dunbar Barrens (Marinette County) contain examples of this type

Northwest Sands

The globally rare pine barrens community is better represented in the Northwest Sands than in any other Ecological Landscape, and offers the best opportunities in the State for managing this type. This type should be managed in large habitat blocks where possible. Restoration efforts now include projects on county, state, and federal lands in Polk, Burnett, Douglas, and Bayfield Counties. An important issue is connecting these scattered openings, at least periodically, to reduce the negative impacts of population isolation. The extensive areas of public land may make it possible to connect existing critical protected areas by using semi-natural landscapes (e.g., a combination of managed forests and abandoned farms) as connection corridors. Managing many thousands of acres in a mosaic of barrens, grasslands, wetlands and forests may be the best way to protect some species. Providing for the periodic movement of barrens-dependent species between some of the now-isolated patches is a key long-term management consideration, and could benefit many rare birds, herptiles, plants, butterflies, moths, and other invertebrates occurring in this Ecological Landscape. Opportunities to develop partnerships with private groups, including industrial forest landowners should be sought. Examples of this community are present at Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area (Burnett County), Namekagon Barrens (Burnett County), Solon Springs Sharptail Barrens State Natural Area (Douglas County), Motts Ravine on the Brule River State Forest (Douglas County), and Moquah Barrens (Bayfield County).

Western Coulee and Ridges

Excellent examples of oak barrens occur on Fort McCoy Military Reservation (Monroe County), including a pine component in some stands. There are some distinctive and important occurrences of barrens (that include jack pine) on the broad terraces bordering some of the major rivers in the Ecological Landscape, e.g., North Bend Bottoms State Wildlife Area (Jackson County), Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge (Trempealeau County), and Nine Mile Island Savanna (Pepin County).


Pine Barrens Photos

Pine Barrens Photo

A scattering of small jack pines interspersed with openings rich in native prairie plants and animals characterizes this pine barrens.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Pine Barrens Photo

Pine barrens remnant features a scattering of large pines, thickets of deciduous shrubs, and openings composed mostly of native prairie grasses and forbs.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Pine Barrens Photo

Rolling outwash sands, open pine barrens, and scattered jack pine trees. Moquah Barrens SNA, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Pine Barrens Photo

Rolling outwash sands in NE WI support extensive bracken grassland vegetation. Herb-dominated openings with small scattered groves of jack pine, scrub oak, quaking aspen.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Pine Barrens Photo

Karner Blue habitat. Pine Barrens in Adams County.

Photo by  staff.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Wednesday, June 16, 2021