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Andy Stoltman

Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape

Download the Southern 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 Southern 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


843 square miles (539,830 acres). 1.5% of the area of the state.


The climate is moderated by Lake Michigan. The mean growing season is 169 days and the mean annual temperature is 47.2deg. F, the longest and warmest of any Ecological Landscape in the state. The mean annual precipitation is 34 inches, the second most precipitation in the state. The mean annual snowfall is 41.9 inches similar to other southern Ecological Landscapes. Lake effect snows occur in areas adjacent to Lake Michigan. The climate (temperature, growing degree days, and precipitation) is suitable for agricultural row crops, small grains, and pastures, which are prevalent land uses in the non-urbanized parts of this Ecological Landscape.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Predominately Silurian dolomite, generally covered by deposits of glacial drift from 50 to over 100 feet in depth.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

Inland the primary landform is level to gently rolling ground moraine. Near Lake Michigan, landforms include subdued ridge and swale topography, beach and dune complexes, and wave-cut clay bluffs. The river mouths within large cities have all been heavily modified.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


In the uplands, soils are primarily moderately well drained brown calcareous silty clay loam till. In the lowlands, soils are primarily very poorly drained non-acid mucks or silty and clayey lacustrine types.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Lake Michigan is the dominant aquatic feature; 26 named lakes (>5,000 total acres); around 1,500 unnamed lakes (most of these are very small ponds, as these waterbodies total only around 1800 acres). Important rivers include the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, Root, Des Plaines, Southeast Fox, and Pike. 4% of the Ecological Landscape is open wetland.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

This is the most urbanized Ecological Landscape in state. Primarily agricultural (39%) and urban (24%), with 16% grassland and 12% upland and lowland forest.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine county.)


1,278,572, 23.8% of the state total

Population Density

1,655 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

These include service-based sectors (education services, administration and support services, health care and social services, transportation, and arts, entertainment, and recreation) and some resource based sectors (manufacturing, utilities, agriculture, and secondary wood products). Federal, state, county and town governments all have offices in this Ecological Landscape. Agriculture and urbanization are having the largest impacts on the natural resources in the Ecological Landscape.

Public Ownership

Public ownership is very low, encompassing only 1.1% of the Ecological Landscape. State-owned lands include Bong Recreation Area, Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area (in part), several Wildlife Areas and other Natural Areas. Milwaukee County has an extensive park system, and small amounts of county-owned land occur in Racine and Kenosha counties. UW-Parkside has stewardship responsibilities for several tracts in Kenosha County. 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

Several designated State Natural Areas, such as Silver Lake Bog and Renak-Polak Maple-Beech Woods, remain in private ownership, Seminary Woods in Milwaukee County. The Wisconsin Chapter of the Nature Conservancy is active at Chiwaukee Prairie in Kenosha County, and at several other sites in the Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

This is the most highly populated and heavily developed Ecological Landscape in the state. It has long been a hub of transportation, heavy industry, and commerce, as well as a productive agricultural area, resulting in large and long-term impacts to the land and water. Natural systems are severely fragmented and disturbed by widespread and intensive agricultural, industrial, and residential development. Ongoing development may increase land values, taxes, and costs of public services. All of the formerly extensive plant community groups - forests, savannas, prairies, and wetlands - have been greatly reduced from their historical abundance. Most natural community remnants are small and isolated, occurring within a context of lands and waters that are now dedicated to supporting residential, industrial, and agricultural uses. Invasive species are a major problem here, more so than in other Ecological Landscapes. Wetland and aquatic systems have been significantly diminished or degraded, often leading to serious water management issues that are difficult and expensive to fix. Despite all of the development that has occurred, this Ecological Landscape still supports rare and declining species and communities that occur at few other locations. A 1990s critical features inventory planned and conducted by SEWRPC (1997) and Wisconsin DNR identified more than 18,000 acres of high quality remnant natural communities and critical species habitats throughout a seven county area, including the entire Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. Several counties have extensive systems of parklands and green spaces, and conservation-oriented groups dedicated to a wide array of interests, including land stewardship, are well-established and active. Stream restoration has attracted great local support. There may be significant opportunities to re-vegetate areas, especially brownfields, not as natural communities, but to serve as surrogate habitats for wildlife. Urban forestry is important here and could represent ecological as well as socio-economic opportunities.  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 Southern 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.

Blanchard's Cricket FrogAcris blanchardi1
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum1
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris1

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus2
Silphium Terminal Gall WaspAntistrophus silphii2
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Cherrystone DropHendersonia occulta1
Dentate SupercoilParavitrea multidentata1

A Colaspis Leaf BeetleColaspis suggona3
A Hydroporus Diving BeetleHeterosternuta wickhami3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleLaccornis deltoides3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleMatus ovatus3
Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis rhodensis3
A Pear-shaped WeevilFallapion bischoffi2
Sandy Stream Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera macra2
A Leaf BeetleAltica litigata1
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus discolor1
A Water Scavenger BeetleAgabetes acuductus1
Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida1

Black TernChlidonias niger3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Forster's TernSterna forsteri3
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii3
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus3
Purple MartinProgne subis3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
American WoodcockScolopax minor2
Bell's VireoVireo bellii2
Black-crowned Night-HeronNycticorax nycticorax2
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor2
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum2
King RailRallus elegans2
Least BitternIxobrychus exilis2
Piping PloverCharadrius melodus2
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Yellow-crowned Night-HeronNyctanassa violacea2
Yellow-headed BlackbirdXanthocephalus xanthocephalus2
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens1
Caspian TernHydroprogne caspia1
Common GoldeneyeBucephala clangula1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus1
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus1
Rufa Red KnotCalidris canutus rufa1
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda1
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta1
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Liatris Borer MothPapaipema beeriana3
Silphium Borer MothPapaipema silphii3
A Noctuid MothDichagyris reliqua1
Gray CopperLycaena dione1
Swamp MetalmarkCalephelis muticum1

Prairie CrayfishProcambarus gracilis3

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Double-striped BluetEnallagma basidens3
Plains EmeraldSomatochlora ensigera3
Swamp DarnerEpiaeschna heros3
Painted SkimmerLibellula semifasciata2
Pronghorn ClubtailGomphus graslinellus2
Slaty SkimmerLibellula incesta2
Smoky RubyspotHetaerina titia2
Delta-spotted SpiketailCordulegaster diastatops1
Hine's EmeraldSomatochlora hineana1
Lilypad ForktailIschnura kellicotti1
Spangled SkimmerLibellula cyanea1
Spatterdock DarnerRhionaeschna mutata1
Springwater DancerArgia plana1
Unicorn ClubtailArigomphus villosipes1

Striped ShinerLuxilus chrysocephalus3
Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens2
Longear SunfishLepomis megalotis2
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis2
American EelAnguilla rostrata1
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta1
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca1
Pugnose ShinerNotropis anogenus1
Starhead TopminnowFundulus dispar1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus2
Bog ConeheadNeoconocephalus lyristes2
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus2
Delicate Meadow KatydidOrchelimum delicatum2
Handsome GrasshopperSyrbula admirabilis2
Seaside GrasshopperTrimerotropis maritima2
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa1
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata1
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida1
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperMemnonia panzeri3
A LeafhopperDestria crocea3
A PlanthopperMyndus ovatus3
Acuminate Water BoatmanRamphocorixa acuminata3
Piglet BugAphelonema simplex3
A LeafhopperFlexamia prairiana2
Red-tailed Prairie LeafhopperAflexia rubranura2
A LeafhopperLimotettix elegans1

Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus3
Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii3
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus3
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii3
Tricolored BatPerimyotis subflavus2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis1
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster1
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans1
Water ShrewSorex palustris1
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum1

A Flat-headed MayflyMaccaffertium pulchellum1

Mussels and clamsScore
EllipseVenustaconcha ellipsiformis3
Rainbow ShellVillosa iris3
Slippershell MusselAlasmidonta viridis3
ElktoeAlasmidonta marginata1

Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii3
Butler's GartersnakeThamnophis butleri3
Eastern MassasaugaSistrurus catenatus2
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix2
QueensnakeRegina septemvittata2

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
Astragalus neglectus Cooper's Milkvetch 3
Carex crus-corvi Ravenfoot Sedge 3
Carex formosa Handsome Sedge 3
Carex gracilescens Slender Sedge 3
Carex lupuliformis False Hop Sedge 3
Carex swanii Swan Sedge 3
Eurybia furcata Forked Aster 3
Fimbristylis puberula Chestnut Sedge 3
Phlox glaberrima ssp. interior Smooth Phlox 3
Plantago cordata Heart-leaved Plantain 3
Platanthera leucophaea Eastern Prairie White Fringed Orchid 3
Ptelea trifoliata ssp. trifoliata var. trifoliata Wafer-ash 3
Sisyrinchium albidum White Blue-eyed-grass 3
Solidago caesia Bluestem Goldenrod 3
Thalictrum revolutum Waxleaf Meadowrue 3
Viburnum prunifolium Smooth Black-haw 3
Arnoglossum reniforme Great Indian-plantain 2
Asclepias sullivantii Prairie Milkweed 2
Botrychium campestre Prairie Dunewort 2
Cakile edentula var. lacustris American Sea-rocket 2
Carex digitalis var. digitalis Slender Wood Sedge 2
Clinopodium arkansanum Low Calamint 2
Conioselinum chinense Hemlock-parsley 2
Cuscuta coryli Hazel Dodder 2
Cuscuta glomerata Rope Dodder 2
Cuscuta polygonorum Knotweed Dodder 2
Dichanthelium wilcoxianum Wilcox's Panic Grass 2
Epilobium strictum Downy Willow-herb 2
Erigenia bulbosa Harbinger-of-spring 2
Euphorbia polygonifolia Seaside Spurge 2
Fraxinus quadrangulata Blue Ash 2
Gymnocladus dioicus Kentucky Coffee-tree 2
Hydrastis canadensis Golden-seal 2
Jeffersonia diphylla Twinleaf 2
Nyssa sylvatica Black Tupelo 2
Penstemon pallidus Pale Beardtongue 2
Quercus muehlenbergii Chinquapin Oak 2
Scutellaria ovata ssp. ovata Heart-leaved Skullcap 2
Sisyrinchium angustifolium Pointed Blue-eyed-grass 2
Spiranthes magnicamporum Great Plains Lady's-tresses 2
Triantha glutinosa False Asphodel 2
Triglochin palustris Slender Bog Arrow-grass 2
Valeriana edulis var. ciliata Hairy Valerian 2
Agalinis gattingeri Roundstem Foxglove 1
Agalinis skinneriana Pale False Foxglove 1
Asclepias hirtella Green Milkweed 1
Asclepias purpurascens Purple Milkweed 1
Calamovilfa longifolia var. magna Sand Reedgrass 1
Carex garberi Elk Sedge 1
Echinacea pallida Pale Purple Coneflower 1
Eleocharis quadrangulata Square-stem Spike-rush 1
Galium brevipes Swamp Bedstraw 1
Juglans cinerea Butternut 1
Juncus marginatus Grassleaf Rush 1
Orobanche fasciculata Clustered Broomrape 1
Penstemon hirsutus Hairy Beardtongue 1
Polygala incarnata Pink Milkwort 1
Scleria verticillata Low Nutrush 1
Trillium nivale Snow Trillium 1
Trisetum melicoides Purple False Oats 1
Verbena simplex Narrow-leaved Vervain 1

Community opportunities

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community management opportunities

The Southern 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.

General opportunities

General management opportunities 1

The Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape is the most highly populated and heavily developed Ecological Landscape in the state. Most ecosystems here are severely fragmented and disturbed by widespread and intensive agricultural, industrial and residential development. Nevertheless, this landscape provides some significant management opportunities.

Millions of citizens depend on Lake Michigan for a wide array of ecosystem services, economic uses and social amenities. The lake, its shoreline habitats and its near-shore waters support a unique complex of natural features and are of especially high significance to migratory birds and fish. Management and protection of Lake Michigan and its surroundings is both ecologically and economically important.

Coastal prairies, a rarity in Wisconsin, are now restricted to a single location in the extreme southeastern corner of the state. Chiwaukee Prairie is one of the Upper Midwest's premier coastal wetland complexes featuring prairies. It is the only Wisconsin example of a Great Lakes-influenced coastal wetland composed mostly of tallgrass prairie and fen, and it includes one of Wisconsin's largest and most diverse occurrences of Wet-mesic Prairie. The site is globally significant and harbors numerous rare species, including plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals. It is adjacent to other significant conservation lands just to the south, in northern Illinois. This and other areas in the southeast corner of the landscape offer good opportunities for continued protection and management.

Large Surrogate Grasslands and embedded prairie, sedge meadow and marsh community remnants at sites such as Bong State Recreation Area are important ecologically and for recreation. There may be opportunities to manage agricultural lands adjoining these areas in ways that would increase the amount of suitable habitat for area-sensitive grassland animals, while buffering remnant prairie, meadow, marsh, forest, or other native vegetation.

Restoration and management of major river and stream corridors is a major ecological and socio-economic priority, including the protection and restoration of their hydrological function and riparian corridors. Important rivers and streams here include the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic, Des Plaines and Root. Inland lakes, despite their generally developed condition, widespread water quality problems and significant habitat losses, continue to provide habitat for native fish, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. Many birds and a few mammals are also strongly associated with and, in some cases, dependent on these lakes.

Natural communities here often occur as small, scattered, isolated patches. Wherever possible, the least disturbed and most intact remnants should be embedded within larger management units or corridors of natural cover or greenspace.

Significant portions of this ecological landscape are in urban or other residential development. Use of green infrastructure concepts can help improve the area's residential appeal, lessen the urban "heat sink" effect and contribute to water infiltration, wildlife habitat and other ecological benefits. Urban forestry may also help sequester carbon and improve human habitat.

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


Southern 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 Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Ecological Landscape. The Southern 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