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Map showing the Northwest Sands Ecological Landscape
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For information on Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes, contact:
Andy Stoltman

North Central Forest Ecological Landscape

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


9,543 square miles (6,107,516 acres), representing 17.1% of the total land area of the state.


Typical of northern Wisconsin, mean growing season in the North Central Forest is 115 days, the shortest growing season of all Ecological Landscapes in the state. The mean annual temperature is 40.3 deg. F. Summer temperatures can be cold or freezing at night in the low-lying areas, limiting the occurrence of some biota. The mean annual precipitation is 32.3 inches and the mean annual snowfall is 63 inches. However, heavier snowfall can occur closer to Lake Superior, especially in the northwestern part of the Ecological Landscape in the topographically higher Penokee-Gogebic Iron Range. The cool temperatures and short growing season are not conducive to supporting agricultural row crops such as corn in most parts of the Ecological Landscape. Only six percent of the North Central Forest is in agricultural use. The climate is especially favorable for the growth of forests, which cover roughly 75% of the Ecological Landscape.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Predominantly igneous and metamorphic rock, generally covered by 5 to 100 feet of glacial drift deposits.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

Landforms are characterized by end and ground moraines with some pitted outwash and bedrock-controlled areas. Kettle depressions and steep ridges are found in the northern portion of the North Central Forest. Two prominent areas here are the Penokee-Gogebic Iron Range in the north (which extends into Upper Michigan), and Timm's Hill, the highest point in Wisconsin (at 1,951 feet) in the south. Drumlins are important landforms in some parts of the North Central Forest.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Soils consist of sandy loams, sands, and silts. Organic soils, peats and mucks, are common in poorly drained lowlands.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Rivers, streams, and springs are common and found throughout this Ecological Landscape. Major rivers include the Wisconsin, Chippewa, Flambeau, Jump, Wolf, Pine, Popple, and Peshtigo. Large lakes include Namekagon, Courte Oreilles, Owen, Round, Butternut, North Twin, Metonga, Pelican, Pine, Kentuck, Pickerel, and Lucerne. Several large man-made flowages occur here such as the Chippewa, Turtle-Flambeau, Gile, Pine, and Mondeaux. There are several localized but significant concentrations of glacial kettle lakes associated with end and recessional moraines (e.g., the Perkinstown, Bloomer, Winegar, Birchwood Lakes, and Valhalla/Marenisco Moraines.) In southern Ashland and Bayfield counties, the concentrations of lakes are associated with till plains or outwash over till. Lakes here are due to dense till holding up the water table. Rare lake types in the North Central Forest include marl and meromictic lakes.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Forests cover approximately 75% of this Ecological Landscape. The mesic northern hardwood forest is dominant, made up of sugar maple, basswood, and red maple, with some stands containing scattered hemlock, yellow birch, and/or white pine pockets. The aspen-birch forest type group is also abundant, followed by spruce-fir (most of the spruce-fir is lowland conifers on acid peat not upland "boreal" forest). Forested and non-forested wetland communities are common and widespread. These include Northern Wet-mesic Forest (dominated by either northern white cedar or black ash), Northern Wet Forest (acid conifer swamps dominated by black spruce and/or tamarack), non-forested acid peatlands (bogs, fens, and muskegs), alder thicket, sedge meadow, and marsh (including wild rice marshes) are widespread in the North Central Forest.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Bayfield, Washburn, Rusk, Sawyer, Chippewa, Iron, Ashland, Price, Taylor, Lincoln, Langlade, Forest and Florence counties)


244,782, 4.4% of the state total

Population Density

19 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

Government, tourism-related, manufacturing (non-wood) and retail trade sectors in 2002 reflecting high government and tourism-related dependence. Although forestry does not have a large impact on the number of jobs it produces, it is the sector that has the largest impact on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape.

Public Ownership

42% is publicly owned, mostly by federal, state or county governments. Federal ownership includes the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. State ownership includes the 90,000 acre Flambeau River State Forest and several other large properties, including the Kimberly-Clark Wildlife Area. Counties in or partially within the North Central Forest with large County Forests include: Ashland, Bayfield, Chippewa, Florence, Forest, Iron, Langlade, Lincoln, Oneida, Price, Rusk, Sawyer, Taylor, and Washburn counties. 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 (TNC) has several major projects in the North Central Forest, in northern Vilas County, and at Catherine Lake in Ashland-Iron counties. TNC has also partnered with the WDNR, the USFS, and various private groups on various research, land use planning, and protection projects, including one in the Pine-Popple Watershed (in part to remedy poorly sited or constructed stream crossings or culverts that act as barriers to the movement of aquatic life) in the eastern part of the Ecological Landscape. Native American lands include the Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, and Potawatomi Reservations.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

One of the major considerations in the North Central Forest is clarification of the roles played by and ecological relationships among public, private, industrial, and tribal lands from a conservation, socioeconomic, and recreational perspectives. In recent years there has been documentation of widespread negative impacts to forests from: excessive deer browse; invasive earthworms, insects, plants and pathogens; divestitures of large private holdings (especially estates and industrial forests); increased parcelization; and the development of shoreline habitats. Other important factors to consider include: the potential implications of climate change; ecological impacts of increased biomass harvest; forest type conversions; forest simplification and homogenization; and the need to develop ecologically appropriate and economically viable restoration methods for mesic forests.  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 North Central Forest 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
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris1
Mink FrogLithobates septentrionalis3

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1
Frigid Bumble BeeBombus frigidus2
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus2
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola2
Sanderson's Bumble BeeBombus sandersoni3
Indiscriminate Cuckoo Bumble BeeBombus insularis1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Cherrystone DropHendersonia occulta1
Appalachian PillarCochlicopa morseana1
Cross VertigoVertigo modesta2
Boreal TopZoogenetes harpa2
Sculpted GlyphGlyphyalinia rhoadsi1
Bright GlyphGlyphyalinia wheatleyi1
Black StriateStriatura ferrea1

Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis hirticollis1
Northern Barrens Tiger BeetleCicindela patruela patruela1
Sylvan Hygrotus Diving BeetleHygrotus sylvanus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHygrotus marklini3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHygrotus farctus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHygrotus compar3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHygrotus falli2
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus immaturus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus leptapsis3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus discolor3
A Hydroporus Diving BeetleHeterosternuta pulchra3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHydrocolus persimilis3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHydrocolus rubyae3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHydroporus morio3
Robust Dubiraphian Riffle BeetleDubiraphia robusta3
A Crawling Water BeetleHaliplus apostolicus3
A Minute Moss BeetleHydraena angulicollis3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleIlybius confusus3
A Water Scavenger BeetleAgabetes acuductus3
A Water Scavenger BeetleHelophorus orchymonti2
A Water Scavenger BeetleHelophorus latipenis3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleIlybius angustior3

American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus3
Least BitternIxobrychus exilis1
American Black DuckAnas rubripes1
Common GoldeneyeBucephala clangula2
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis3
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus3
Spruce GrouseFalcipennis canadensis3
Sharp-tailed GrouseTympanuchus phasianellus2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda1
American WoodcockScolopax minor3
Black TernChlidonias niger2
Long-eared OwlAsio otus2
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor1
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus1
Black-backed WoodpeckerPicoides arcticus3
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Purple MartinProgne subis1
Gray JayPerisoreus canadensis3
Boreal ChickadeePoecile hudsonicus3
Ruby-crowned KingletRegulus calendula3
Swainson's ThrushCatharus ustulatus3
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera3
Cerulean WarblerSetophaga cerulea2
Connecticut WarblerOporornis agilis2
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens1
DickcisselSpiza americana1
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus1
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum1
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii1
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus2
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna1
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta1
Yellow-headed BlackbirdXanthocephalus xanthocephalus1
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus3
Evening GrosbeakCoccothraustes vespertinus3

Butterflies and mothsScore
West Virginia WhitePieris virginiensis3
Chryxus ArcticOeneis chryxus1
Midwestern Fen BuckmothHemileuca nevadensis ssp. 31
Semirelict Underwing MothCatocala semirelicta2
Doll's MeroloncheAcronicta dolli1
Bina Flower MothSchinia bina1

A Giant Casemaker CaddisflyBanksiola dossuaria3
A Fingernet CaddisflyWormaldia moesta3
A Phryganeid CaddisflyBeothukus complicatus3

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Delta-spotted SpiketailCordulegaster diastatops1
Pronghorn ClubtailGomphus graslinellus2
Extra-striped SnaketailOphiogomphus anomalus3
St. Croix SnaketailOphiogomphus susbehcha3
Sioux (Sand) SnaketailOphiogomphus smithi3
Mottled DarnerAeshna clepsydra3
Spatterdock DarnerRhionaeschna mutata1
Lake EmeraldSomatochlora cingulata3
Plains EmeraldSomatochlora ensigera1
Forcipate EmeraldSomatochlora forcipata3
Incurvate EmeraldSomatochlora incurvata3
Sphagnum SpriteNehalennia gracilis3

Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
Shortjaw CiscoCoregonus zenithicus1
Pugnose ShinerNotropis anogenus1
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum1
Longear SunfishLepomis megalotis3
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca2
Gilt DarterPercina evides3

A Non-biting MidgePseudodiamesa pertinax3

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus1
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei1
Bruner's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus bruneri2
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus2
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus2
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus2
Rocky Mountain Sprinkled LocustChloealtis abdominalis2
Crackling Forest GrasshopperTrimerotropis verruculata3
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna2
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa2
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida2

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A Broad-shouldered Water StriderMicrovelia albonotata3
A BackswimmerNotonecta borealis3
A Water BoatmanDasycorixa hybrida3

Water ShrewSorex palustris3
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans3
Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus2
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus3
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii1
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis3
American MartenMartes americana3

A Small Minnow MayflyParacloeodes minutus2
A Spiny Crawler MayflyEurylophella aestiva3
A Flat-headed MayflyRhithrogena undulata2
A Flat-headed MayflyMaccaffertium pulchellum2
A Spiny Crawler MayflyDrunella cornuta2
A Large Square-gilled MayflyNeoephemera bicolor2
A Small Minnow MayflyPlauditus cestus2

Mussels and clamsScore
ElktoeAlasmidonta marginata3
Slippershell MusselAlasmidonta viridis1
SpectaclecaseCumberlandia monodonta1
Purple WartybackCyclonaias tuberculata3
SheepnosePlethobasus cyphyus2
Salamander MusselSimpsonaias ambigua1
EllipseVenustaconcha ellipsiformis1

Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta3
Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii1

A Perlodid StoneflyIsogenoides frontalis3
A Perlodid StoneflyIsogenoides olivaceus3

Community opportunities

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community management opportunities

The North Central Forest 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
Alder ThicketMajor
Bedrock GladeMajor
Black Spruce SwampMajor
Coldwater streamsMajor
Coolwater streamsMajor
Dry CliffMajor
Emergent MarshMajor
Ephemeral PondMajor
Floating-leaved MarshMajor
Glaciere Talus (Felsenmeer)Major
Lake SuperiorMajor
Large Lake--deep, hard, seepageMajor
Large Lake--deep, soft+, seepageMajor
Large Lake--shallow, hard, seepageMajor
Large Lake--shallow, hard+, drainageMajor
Large Lake--shallow, soft, seepageMajor
Moist CliffMajor
Northern Hardwood SwampMajor
Northern Mesic Forest--late seralMajor
Northern Sedge MeadowMajor
Northern Tamarack SwampMajor
Northern Wet ForestMajor
Northern Wet-mesic ForestMajor
Open BogMajor
Poor FenMajor
Riverine Impoundment - ReservoirsMajor
Small Lake--meromicticMajor
Small Lake--otherMajor
Spring Pond, Lake--SpringMajor
Springs and Spring Runs (Hard)Major
Springs and Spring Runs (Soft)Major
Submergent MarshMajor
Warmwater riversMajor
Warmwater streamsMajor
Boreal ForestImportant
Boreal Rich FenImportant
Caves and Subterranean CulturalImportant
Conifer PlantationImportant
Floodplain ForestImportant
Forested SeepImportant
Large Lake--deep, hard, drainageImportant
Large Lake--deep, soft, drainageImportant
Large Lake--shallow, soft, drainageImportant
Mesic Cedar ForestImportant
Northern Dry Mesic--late seralImportant
Patterned PeatlandImportant
Riverine Lake - PondImportant
Riverine Mud FlatImportant
Shrub CarrImportant
Small Lake--hard, bogImportant
Wild Rice MarshImportant
Inland BeachPresent
Lacustrine Mud FlatPresent
Northern Dry Forest--late seralPresent
Small Lake--soft, bogPresent
Surrogate GrasslandsPresent

General opportunities

General management opportunities 1

The North Central Forest contains the best large-scale interior forest management opportunities in the state. There are opportunities to create or maintain large habitat patches, develop or re-establish greater connectivity between forest habitat patches and restore missing and diminished cover types. Restoring conifers to many hardwood forests is a major opportunity. Hemlock and yellow birch, once the dominant species in this landscape, are greatly reduced and declining. Both species are difficult to regenerate, so developing effective regeneration methods given deer herbivory challenges is a management opportunity.

Old forests are a rare and declining resource in Wisconsin. The North Central Forest offers excellent opportunities to manage areas for older forest within a context of outstanding aquatic features, intact and relatively undisturbed wetlands and vast public landholdings. Working forests could include areas with extended rotations, the development of old-growth forest characteristics and/or stands of "managed old-growth."

Wetlands are abundant here and include forested, shrub and herbaceous types. Collectively, wet-mesic forests, including Northern Wet-mesic Forest and Hardwood Swamp, are more common here than anywhere else in the state. Acid peatlands are common and widespread. Ephemeral Ponds are abundant and provide important habitat for numerous animals. Protecting the hydrology and integrity of the landscape's wetlands is a major opportunity.

Aquatic resources are in good condition compared to many areas elsewhere in the state. Water quality is high, sediment and pollutant loads are low, flow levels tend to follow normal patterns on many streams and the diversity of aquatic organisms is significant. Maintaining the existing high percentage of forest cover within watersheds is, arguably, the most critical factor in maintaining high water quality and supporting all of the aquatic species native to northern Wisconsin's lakes and streams.

Invasive species are, generally, less abundant here than in many other ecological landscapes, especially those in the southern half of the state. However, invasive species detections are increasing in this landscape. Controlling these species before they become abundant, as they have in many other parts of the state, is an important opportunity as both control efforts and costs are more manageable when problems are still localized.

There are good opportunities to maintain communities and habitats that are either especially well-represented here or rare elsewhere in the state. These include lowland forests dominated either by white cedar or black ash, acid peatlands, bedrock glades and moist cliffs. It should be possible to provide for the needs of the vast majority of plants and animals native to the North Central Forest, including the many rare species that have been documented.

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


North Central Forest 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 North Central Forest Ecological Landscape. The North Central Forest 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