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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

Central Sand Hills Ecological Landscape

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


1,388,705 acres (2,170 square miles), representing 3.9 % of the land area of the State of Wisconsin.


Typical of south central Wisconsin; mean growing season of 144 days, mean annual temperature is 44.8 deg. F, average January minimum temperature is 4deg. F, average August maximum temperature is 81deg. F, mean annual precipitation is 33 inches, mean annual snowfall is 44 inches. Although the climate is suitable for agricultural row crops, small grains, and pastures, the sandy soils somewhat limit agricultural potential.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Bedrock exposures are limited but include Precambrian rhyolite bluffs, and a vertical exposure of Ordovician St. Peter sandstone with a thin dolomite cap at Gibraltar Rock in Columbia County.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

The landforms in this Ecological Landscape include a series of glacial moraines (the Johnstown Moraine is the terminal moraine of the Green Bay lobe; the Arnott Moraine is older, and has more subdued topography. Pitted outwash is extensive in some areas. Glacial tunnel channels occur here, e.g., in Waushara County, just east of and visible from I-39.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Soils are primarily sands. Organic soils underlie wetlands such as tamarack swamps and sedge meadows. Muck farming still occurs in some areas.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Mosaic of extensive wetlands and small kettle lakes in the outwash areas, and the headwaters of coldwater streams originating in glacial moraines. Some seepage lakes and ponds exhibit dramatic natural water level fluctuations which create important Inland Beach and Coastal Plain Marsh habitats. The Wisconsin River and a short but ecologically important stretch of the lower Baraboo River flow through this Ecological Landscape. Other important rivers include the Fox, Grand, Mecan, Montello, Puchyan, and White. Large impoundments occur on the Wisconsin (Lake Wisconsin), Fox (Buffalo and Puckaway lakes) and Grand (Grand River Marsh) rivers.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Current vegetation is more than one-third agricultural crops, one third forest, and almost 20% grasslands with smaller amounts of open wetland, open water, shrubs, unvegetated (termed "barren" in WISCLAND), and urban areas. Large contiguous areas of any of the major natural or surrogate vegetation types are uncommon.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

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Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Portage, Waushara, Marquette, Green Lake, and Columbia. counties)


182,035, 3.2% of the state total

Population Density

59 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

The largest employment sectors in 2007 were: Government (13.2% vs. 12.1% statewide); Tourism-related (12.6% vs. 11.2%), Manufacturing (non-wood) (12.0% vs. 11.7%) and Health care & social services (9.4% vs. 10.7%).

Public Ownership

Scattered Federal Waterfowl Production Areas, Fox River National Wildlife Refuge, scattered state-owned and managed lands, including Hartman Creek State Park, several State Wildlife Areas, Fisheries Areas, and Natural Areas. 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 Nature Conservancy has been active in this Ecological Landscape, with projects at sites that include Summerton Bog and Page Creek Marsh.

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Considerations for Planning & Management

Important concerns and considerations in the Central Sand Hills include the fragmentation and isolation of major habitats, groundwater withdrawals, ground and surface water contamination, hydrologic disruption due to ditching and diking, fire suppression and the loss of fire-dependent habitats and species, shoreline development, and the introduction and spread of invasive species. Poor water quality exists in some lakes and impoundments. Ground water contamination is also an issue in this Ecological Landscape. Excessive groundwater withdrawals could have serious negative consequences in areas supporting coldwater streams and seepage lakes, and within the recharge areas of groundwater-dependent natural communities such as Coastal Plain Marsh, Calcareous Fen, Tamarack Swamp, and Southern Sedge Meadow. Fire suppression has altered successional pathways that maintained savannas, prairies and other fire-adapted or dependent vegetation.  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 Sand Hills 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 scutatum2
Blanchard's Cricket FrogAcris blanchardi1
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris2

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola1
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus1
An Anthophorid BeeNeolarra vigilans1
A Cuckoo BeeEpeolus ainsliei1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Six-whorl VertigoVertigo morsei2

Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis hirticollis3
Sandy Stream Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera macra3
Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida3
Virginia Big-headed Tiger BeetleTetracha virginica1
Sylvan Hygrotus Diving BeetleHygrotus sylvanus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHygrotus farctus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleIlybius gagates3
Robust Dubiraphian Riffle BeetleDubiraphia robusta2
Douglas Stenelmis Riffle BeetleStenelmis douglasensis3
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis antennalis3
A Riffle BeetleStenelmis fuscata3
A Minute Moss BeetleOchthebius lineatus3
A Water Scavenger BeetleCymbiodyta toddi3
Cantrall's Bog BeetleLiodessus cantralli3
A Burrowing Water BeetleHydrocanthus iricolor3
A Water Scavenger BeetleAgabetes acuductus2
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes1
A Leaf BeetleDistigmoptera impennata1
A Leaf BeetleGlyptina brunnea1
A Leaf BeetleGlyptina leptosoma1
A Water Scavenger BeetleHelophorus latipenis3
A Straight-snouted WeevilEutrichapion huron3
A Pear-shaped WeevilFallapion impeditum1
A Pear-shaped WeevilTrichapion perforicolle1
A Pear-shaped WeevilFallapion bischoffi1
A Predaceous Diving BeetleColymbetes exaratus3
A Leaf BeetleCryptocephalus cuneatus1
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis luridus1
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis peccans1
A Predaceous Diving BeetleCybister fimbriolatus3

American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus3
Least BitternIxobrychus exilis2
Black-crowned Night-HeronNycticorax nycticorax2
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis1
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus3
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido1
Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus3
Yellow RailCoturnicops noveboracensis2
Whooping CraneGrus americana3
Black-necked StiltHimantopus mexicanus1
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
American WoodcockScolopax minor3
Forster's TernSterna forsteri3
Black TernChlidonias niger3
Long-eared OwlAsio otus1
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor2
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus2
Acadian FlycatcherEmpidonax virescens1
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Purple MartinProgne subis2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera2
Cerulean WarblerSetophaga cerulea3
Prothonotary WarblerProtonotaria citrea1
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens1
DickcisselSpiza americana3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus2
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii3
Le Conte's SparrowAmmodramus leconteii2
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta3
Yellow-headed BlackbirdXanthocephalus xanthocephalus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus2

Butterflies and mothsScore
Persius Dusky WingErynnis persius1
Cross Line SkipperPolites origenes1
Gray CopperLycaena dione1
Frosted ElfinCallophrys irus1
Karner BlueLycaeides melissa samuelis3
Swamp MetalmarkCalephelis muticum2
Regal FritillarySpeyeria idalia1
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone2
Midwestern Fen BuckmothHemileuca nevadensis ssp. 31
Phyllira Tiger MothGrammia phyllira1
Sprague's PygarcticaPygarctia spraguei1
Abbreviated Underwing MothCatocala abbreviatella1
Whitney's Underwing MothCatocala whitneyi1
Owl-eyed Bird Dropping MothCerma cora1
Silphium Borer MothPapaipema silphii1
Bina Flower MothSchinia bina1
Leadplant Flower MothSchinia lucens1

A Lepidostomatid CaddisflyLepidostoma vernale3
A CaddisflyPsilotreta indecisa3

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Delta-spotted SpiketailCordulegaster diastatops1
Pronghorn ClubtailGomphus graslinellus1
Sioux (Sand) SnaketailOphiogomphus smithi1
Mottled DarnerAeshna clepsydra1
Spatterdock DarnerRhionaeschna mutata3
Swamp DarnerEpiaeschna heros1
Plains EmeraldSomatochlora ensigera1
Incurvate EmeraldSomatochlora incurvata1
Clamp-tipped EmeraldSomatochlora tenebrosa1
Ringed BoghaunterWilliamsonia lintneri1
Spangled SkimmerLibellula cyanea1
Smoky RubyspotHetaerina titia1
Springwater DancerArgia plana1
Lilypad ForktailIschnura kellicotti3
Unicorn ClubtailArigomphus villosipes1

Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
PaddlefishPolyodon spathula3
American EelAnguilla rostrata1
GoldeyeHiodon alosoides1
Pugnose ShinerNotropis anogenus1
Redfin ShinerLythrurus umbratilis1
Shoal ChubMacrhybopsis hyostoma3
Blue SuckerCycleptus elongatus3
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta1
Black BuffaloIctiobus niger3
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum1
Longear SunfishLepomis megalotis1
Mud DarterEtheostoma asprigene2
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca2

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus2
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei2
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus2
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus1
Gladston's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus gladstoni2
Rocky Mountain Sprinkled LocustChloealtis abdominalis2
Seaside GrasshopperTrimerotropis maritima1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna2
Bog ConeheadNeoconocephalus lyristes1
Delicate Meadow KatydidOrchelimum delicatum1
Black-striped KatydidScudderia fasciata1
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa2
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida2
Handsome GrasshopperSyrbula admirabilis1
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa2
Green-streak GrasshopperHesperotettix viridis1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus3
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis1
Velvet-striped GrasshopperEritettix simplex1
Obscure GrasshopperOpeia obscura1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata1
A Water StriderNeogerris hesione3
A LeafhopperLimotettix pseudosphagneticus3
A LeafhopperLimotettix elegans1
Red-tailed Prairie LeafhopperAflexia rubranura2
A LeafhopperPrairiana kansana2
A LeafhopperPrairiana cinerea2
A LeafhopperPrairiana angustens1
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius maculosus1
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius altus2
A LeafhopperLaevicephalus vannus1
Prairie LeafhopperPolyamia dilata1
An Issid PlanthopperBruchomorpha extensa1
A LeafhopperCuerna sayi1
A LeafhopperDriotura robusta1
A LeafhopperMemnonia panzeri1
A PlanthopperMyndus ovatus1
Piglet BugAphelonema simplex1
Yellow Loosestrife LeafhopperErythroneura carbonata1

Water ShrewSorex palustris2
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus3
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis2
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans2
Eastern PipistrellePerimyotis subflavus1
Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus3
Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii3
Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus1
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii2
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster2
Woodland VoleMicrotus pinetorum1
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis1

A Brush-legged MayflyHomoeoneuria ammophila1
A Common Burrower MayflyPentagenia vittigera1
Pecatonica River MayflyAcanthametropus pecatonica1
A MayflyAmeletus lineatus2
A Small Minnow MayflyParacloeodes minutus2
Fox Small Square-gilled MayflyCercobrachys fox2
Winnebago Small Square-gilled MayflyCercobrachys winnebago1

Mussels and clamsScore
ElktoeAlasmidonta marginata1
Slippershell MusselAlasmidonta viridis1
Elephant EarElliptio crassidens1
Yellow & Slough SandshellsLampsilis teres1
SheepnosePlethobasus cyphyus2
MonkeyfaceTheliderma metanevra1
MapleleafQuadrula quadrula1
Salamander MusselSimpsonaias ambigua2
BuckhornTritogonia verrucosa2
FawnsfootTruncilla donaciformis1

Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta1
Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii3
Ornate Box TurtleTerrapene ornata3
Smooth SoftshellApalone mutica3
Slender Glass LizardOphisaurus attenuatus3
North American RacerColuber constrictor2
GophersnakePituophis catenifer1
Western RibbonsnakeThamnophis proximus1
Eastern RibbonsnakeThamnophis sauritus1
Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridus1
Eastern MassasaugaSistrurus catenatus1

A Rolled-winged Winter StoneflyZealeuctra narfi3

Community opportunities

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community management opportunities

The Central Sand Hills 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
Calcareous FenMajor
Central Sands Pine - Oak ForestMajor
Coastal Plain MarshMajor
Coldwater streamsMajor
Emergent MarshMajor
Floating-leaved MarshMajor
Lacustrine Mud FlatMajor
Northern Tamarack SwampMajor
Northern Wet ForestMajor
Shrub CarrMajor
Southern Dry ForestMajor
Southern Sedge MeadowMajor
Submergent MarshMajor
Warmwater riversMajor
Wet-mesic PrairieMajor
Alder ThicketImportant
Bedrock GladeImportant
Black Spruce SwampImportant
Bog RelictImportant
Coolwater streamsImportant
Dry PrairieImportant
Floodplain ForestImportant
Inland BeachImportant
Large Lake--deep, hard, seepageImportant
Large Lake--deep, soft+, seepageImportant
Large Lake--shallow, hard, seepageImportant
Large Lake--shallow, hard+, drainageImportant
Large Lake--shallow, soft, seepageImportant
Moist CliffImportant
Moist Sandy MeadowImportant
Northern Hardwood SwampImportant
Northern Sedge MeadowImportant
Oak BarrensImportant
Open BogImportant
Pine BarrensImportant
Poor FenImportant
Riverine Lake - PondImportant
Riverine Mud FlatImportant
Sand PrairieImportant
Small Lake--hard, bogImportant
Small Lake--otherImportant
Small Lake--soft, bogImportant
Southern Dry-mesic ForestImportant
Southern Tamarack Swamp (rich)Important
Spring Pond, Lake--SpringImportant
Springs and Spring Runs (Hard)Important
Springs and Spring Runs (Soft)Important
Surrogate GrasslandsImportant
Warmwater streamsImportant
Wet PrairieImportant
Central Poor FenPresent
Conifer PlantationPresent
Dry CliffPresent
Dry-mesic PrairiePresent
Eastern Red-cedar ThicketPresent
Ephemeral PondPresent
Forested SeepPresent
Large Lake--deep, hard, drainagePresent
Large Lake--deep, soft, drainagePresent
Large Lake--shallow, soft, drainagePresent
Mesic PrairiePresent
Northern Dry Forest--late seralPresent
Northern Dry Mesic--late seralPresent
Northern Mesic Forest--late seralPresent
Northern Wet-mesic ForestPresent
Oak OpeningPresent
Oak WoodlandPresent
Riverine Impoundment - ReservoirsPresent
Sand BarrensPresent
Southern Mesic ForestPresent
Wild Rice MarshPresent

General opportunities

General management opportunities 1

Fire-dependent communities were once common and widespread in the Central Sand Hills. Although today's examples are mostly small remnants, there are excellent opportunities to manage for fire-dependent and fire-adapted communities such as oak forest, oak woodland, oak savanna, tallgrass prairie, sedge meadow and fen. Remnant savannas, both Oak Barrens and Oak Openings, occur on dry and dry-mesic sites scattered throughout the Central Sand Hills. All of these communities have high potential to support rare plants, invertebrates and reptiles.

Dry forests of white, black and bur oak are common, though forest management at large scales is constrained by ownership patterns and small tract size and current land uses. Management of oak forests and woodlands could be integrated with management of oak savanna, prairie and wetlands. This would be especially appropriate on public and private lands managed mostly for conservation purposes. Mixed forests of pine and oak are locally common, and the Central Sand Hills is one of two ecological landscapes where good examples of the Central Sands Pine-Oak Forest community have been documented.

Numerous springs and coldwater streams emanate from the end moraine that forms the western boundary of the Central Sand Hills. Wetland communities associated with these glacial landforms include fen, sedge meadow, low prairie, shrub swamp and tamarack swamp; some of these wetlands are quite alkaline and differ in composition from those found in the more acid environments to the west.

Large wetland complexes such as those found at Germania Marsh, Comstock Marsh, Grand River Marsh and Fountain Creek Prairie contain good examples of fen, sedge meadow, wet prairie, shrub swamp and tamarack swamp. The Central Sand Hills contains more occurrences of the globally rare Coastal Plain Marsh community than any other landscape in Wisconsin. Coastal Plain Marsh communities provide habitat for rare vascular plants and invertebrates and are associated with sandy or gravelly shores of seepage lakes that exhibit dramatic natural water level fluctuations. The US Threatened Fassett's locoweed is strongly associated with this and the inland beach communities. Floodplain forest is significant along stretches of the major rivers such as the Wisconsin, Baraboo and Montello and provides important habitat for resident and migratory wildlife.

Important warmwater rivers include the Fox, Montello, Baraboo and a short but ecologically significant stretch of the Wisconsin. This section includes Pine Island State Wildlife Area, an area associated floodplain habitats, as well as significant savanna and grassland remnants. Dams on several of the major rivers have created very large shallow impoundments, including Buffalo Lake, Lake Puckaway and Lake Wisconsin, and these offer valuable wildlife habitat but need rehabilitation to address their poor water quality. Green Lake, Wisconsin's deepest inland lake, is located in the east central portion of the Central Sand Hills.

Bedrock exposures are rare in the Central Sand Hills. However, they include good examples of glades, cliffs and talus slopes, which support rare plants and other unique vegetation, as well as some rare animals.

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


Central Sand Hills 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 Sand Hills Ecological Landscape. The Central Sand Hills 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