Map showing the Superior Coastal Plain Ecological Landscape
Find an Ecological Landscape
View or print book chapters
View or print maps from the Ecological Landscapes book
Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes, contact:
Andy Stoltman

Northeast Sands Ecological Landscape

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


1,542 square miles (987,176 acres), representing 2.8% of the land area of the state, making it the fifth smallest Ecological Landscape in the state.


The short growing season (122 days) is similar to other northern Ecological Landscapes and limits yield potential for row crop agriculture. January minimum temperatures average higher than other northern Ecological Landscapes. The average August maximum temperature (78.8o) is the third coolest of any other Ecological Landscape in the state.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Precambrian bedrock of volcanic and metamorphic origin, formed during the Lower Proterozoic (roughly 2,500 to 1,050 million years ago) almost completely underlies the Northeast Sands. The northern part of the Ecological Landscape is notable for its many waterfalls, almost all of which are associated with this ancient bedrock. Cambrian sandstone, with some dolomite and shale, underlies a small area along the eastern edge of the Ecological Landscape. In some places, glacial deposits are thin enough that bedrock directly affects vegetation, and is sometimes exposed at the surface.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Geology & Landforms

The Green Bay Lobe covered this Ecological Landscape during the last part of the Wisconsin Glaciation. As the Green Bay Lobe melted and retreated eastward, outwash was deposited over lower-lying surface features, so the Ecological Landscape now appears as a nearly level to rolling sandy outwash plain, pitted in places, with sandy heads-of-outwash and loamy moraines protruding through the outwash sediment. Heads-of-outwash, uncommon in most of Wisconsin, are a distinctive glacial feature here. A series of north-south trending morainal and head-of-outwash hills runs the length of the west side of this Ecological Landscape. They are oriented in roughly parallel positions, marking the outer extent of Green Bay Lobe deposits in northeastern Wisconsin.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Most upland soils formed in acid outwash sand on outwash plains or outwash heads. The dominant soil is excessively drained and sandy with a loamy sand surface, rapid permeability, and very low available water capacity. More than half the land surface is made up of outwash sand and gravel. Glacial till deposits here have pH values that are neutral to calcareous, unlike the acid tills of most of northern Wisconsin, because dolomite was incorporated into the till as glaciers passed over the Niagara Escarpment.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]


Rivers and streams include the Menominee, Peshtigo, Pike, Pine, Oconto, South Branch of the Oconto, and Wolf rivers. Scattered lakes are present, with local concentrations of small lakes in the far north, far south, and the northeast. Several large impoundments have been constructed, such as those on the Menominee and Peshtigo rivers. Hwy 64 bisects the Brazeau Swamp, one of Wisconsin's largest cedar swamps, disrupting its hydrology and altering composition and function. A large portion of this swamp was cleared and drained and is now a "muck farm" used to grow vegetables.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Current Landcover

Forests cover about 75% of this Ecological Landscape. Aspen is the most abundant cover type, and dry forests dominated by scrub-oak and jack pine are common. Plantation-grown pine, hemlock-hardwoods and northern hardwoods are also among the important upland cover types. Common lowland communities include wet-mesic forests dominated by northern white cedar, black spruce-tamarack swamps, and alder-dominated shrub swamps. Agriculture (only 7% of the area) is concentrated mostly in the southeastern and northernmost portions of the Ecological Landscape.  Learn more from the chapter [PDF]

Back to Top

Socioeconomic Conditions
(based on data from Florence, Marinette, Oconto and Menominee counties)


89,421, 1.6% of the state total

Population Density

27 persons/ sq. mile

Per Capita Income


Important Economic Sectors

These include government (16.5%); manufacturing (non-wood) (16.1%); tourism-related (11.8%); and health care and social services (9.6%) sectors in 2007. Forestry has the largest overall impact on the natural resources of the Ecological Landscape.

Public Ownership

Notable properties include the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Peshtigo River State Forest, Governor Tommy Thompson State Park, Peshtigo Brook State Wildlife Area, the Pine-Popple Wild Rivers, the Menominee River Natural Resources Area, and scattered State Natural Areas, including Dunbar Barrens and Spread Eagle Barrens. Lands owned and managed by Florence, Marinette, and Oconto counties comprise over two-thirds of the public acreage, mostly as county forests, but including several small areas managed as county parks. 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 eastern part of the Menominee Reservation is in the Northeast Sands. Several Land Trusts are situated and have active projects in this part of Wisconsin.

Back to Top

Considerations for Planning & Management

Public lands are extensive, and there are significant tribal holdings in the southern part of the Northeast Sands. As in other parts of Wisconsin, high populations of white-tailed deer continue to have significant negative impacts on important forest dominants such as northern white cedar and eastern hemlock, as well as on understory composition and structure. Hydrologic modifications include large dams on several of the major rivers, including the Menominee, Peshtigo, and Pine. Shoreline development, especially along rivers and streams, is a significant concern and is likely to increase in the future. Several invasive species are established here, and others are likely to appear in the near future. There is currently a shortage of older forest and large forest patches; these issues could be addressed during the public lands planning process. Prescribed fire is a potentially important management tool at many locations in this Ecological Landscape. Jack pine, scrub oak, and aspen are all well-represented and important tree species to manage here.  Learn more about management opportunities from the chapter [PDF]

Back to Top


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

The following species are listed according to their probability of occurring in the Northeast Sands Ecological Landscape, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

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

Mink FrogLithobates septentrionalis3
Four-toed SalamanderHemidactylium scutatum2
Pickerel FrogLithobates palustris1

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus1
Yellowbanded Bumble BeeBombus terricola1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Eastern Flat-whorlPlanogyra asteriscus2
Appalachian PillarCochlicopa morseana1
Bright GlyphGlyphyalinia wheatleyi1
Cherrystone DropHendersonia occulta1
Deep-throated VertigoVertigo nylanderi1
Dentate SupercoilParavitrea multidentata1
Ribbed StriateStriatura exigua1
Sculpted GlyphGlyphyalinia rhoadsi1

A Predaceous Diving BeetleIlybius opacus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus discolor3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus leptapsis3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleAgabus immaturus3
A Predaceous Diving BeetleHygrotus compar3
A Water Scavenger BeetleAgabetes acuductus3
Northern Barrens Tiger BeetleCicindela patruela patruela3
Ghost Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera lepida2
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis luridus1
A Leaf BeetleDistigmoptera impennata1
A Minute Moss BeetleHydraena angulicollis1
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes1
A Straight-snouted WeevilEutrichapion huron1
Hairy-necked Tiger BeetleCicindela hirticollis hirticollis1
Sandy Stream Tiger BeetleEllipsoptera macra1

American WoodcockScolopax minor3
BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor3
Eastern Whip-poor-willAntrostomus vociferus3
Golden-winged WarblerVermivora chrysoptera3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Least FlycatcherEmpidonax minimus3
Red-headed WoodpeckerMelanerpes erythrocephalus3
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus3
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus2
Lark SparrowChondestes grammacus2
Northern GoshawkAccipiter gentilis2
Red-shouldered HawkButeo lineatus2
Rusty BlackbirdEuphagus carolinus2
Sharp-tailed GrouseTympanuchus phasianellus2
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda2
Black TernChlidonias niger1
Black-backed WoodpeckerPicoides arcticus1
Boreal ChickadeePoecile hudsonicus1
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus1
Common GoldeneyeBucephala clangula1
DickcisselSpiza americana1
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna1
Evening GrosbeakCoccothraustes vespertinus1
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii1
Kirtland's WarblerSetophaga kirtlandii1
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus1
Olive-sided FlycatcherContopus cooperi1
Spruce GrouseFalcipennis canadensis1
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Chryxus ArcticOeneis chryxus3
Northern BlueLycaeides idas3
Cobweb SkipperHesperia metea2
Dusted SkipperAtrytonopsis hianna2
Phlox MothSchinia indiana2
Doll's MeroloncheAcronicta dolli1
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone1
Karner BlueLycaeides melissa samuelis1
Owl-eyed Bird Dropping MothCerma cora1
Persius Dusky WingErynnis persius1
West Virginia WhitePieris virginiensis1

A Fingernet CaddisflyWormaldia moesta3
A Humpless Casemaker CaddisflyBrachycentrus lateralis3

Dragonflies and damselfliesScore
Delta-spotted SpiketailCordulegaster diastatops3
Forcipate EmeraldSomatochlora forcipata3
Plains EmeraldSomatochlora ensigera3
Slaty SkimmerLibellula incesta3
Extra-striped SnaketailOphiogomphus anomalus1
Incurvate EmeraldSomatochlora incurvata1
Lake EmeraldSomatochlora cingulata1
Mottled DarnerAeshna clepsydra1
Pronghorn ClubtailGomphus graslinellus1
Sioux (Sand) SnaketailOphiogomphus smithi1
Spatterdock DarnerRhionaeschna mutata1
Sphagnum SpriteNehalennia gracilis1
St. Croix SnaketailOphiogomphus susbehcha1
Swamp DarnerEpiaeschna heros1
Zigzag DarnerAeshna sitchensis1

Lake SturgeonAcipenser fulvescens3
Least DarterEtheostoma microperca2
Lake ChubsuckerErimyzon sucetta1
River RedhorseMoxostoma carinatum1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Bruner's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus bruneri2
Clear-winged GrasshopperCamnula pellucida2
Crackling Forest GrasshopperTrimerotropis verruculata2
Forest LocustMelanoplus islandicus2
Huckleberry Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus fasciatus2
Rocky Mountain Sprinkled LocustChloealtis abdominalis2
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa2
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei2
A Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus foedus1
Ash-brown GrasshopperTrachyrhachys kiowa1
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus1
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata1
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A BackswimmerNotonecta borealis3

Northern Flying SquirrelGlaucomys sabrinus3
Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus2
Little Brown BatMyotis lucifugus2
Water ShrewSorex palustris2
Woodland Jumping MouseNapaeozapus insignis2
Northern Long-eared BatMyotis septentrionalis1
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii1
Silver-haired BatLasionycteris noctivagans1

A Flat-headed MayflyMaccaffertium pulchellum3
A Spiny Crawler MayflyDrunella cornuta3
A Spiny Crawler MayflyEurylophella aestiva3
American Sand Burrowing MayflyDolania americana3
A Small Minnow MayflyParacloeodes minutus2
A Small Minnow MayflyPlauditus cestus1

Mussels and clamsScore
Slippershell MusselAlasmidonta viridis2
BuckhornTritogonia verrucosa1
ElktoeAlasmidonta marginata1
FawnsfootTruncilla donaciformis1
MapleleafQuadrula quadrula1
Salamander MusselSimpsonaias ambigua1
SnuffboxEpioblasma triquetra1
Yellow & Slough SandshellsLampsilis teres1

Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta3
Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii2
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
Asclepias ovalifolia Dwarf Milkweed 3
Boechera missouriensis Missouri Rock-cress 3
Malaxis monophyllos var. brachypoda White Adder's-mouth 3
Parnassia palustris Marsh Grass-of-Parnassus 3
Vaccinium pallidum Blue Ridge Blueberry 3
Asplenium trichomanes Maidenhair Spleenwort 2
Carex backii Rocky Mountain Sedge 2
Cypripedium arietinum Ram's-head Lady's-slipper 2
Eleocharis flavescens var. olivacea Capitate Spike-rush 2
Eleocharis quadrangulata Square-stem Spike-rush 2
Eleocharis quinqueflora Few-flowered Spike-rush 2
Eleocharis robbinsii Robbins' Spike-rush 2
Epilobium strictum Downy Willow-herb 2
Gymnocarpium robertianum Limestone Oak Fern 2
Leucophysalis grandiflora Large-flowered Ground-cherry 2
Platanthera hookeri Hooker's Orchid 2
Sceptridium oneidense Blunt-lobe Grape-fern 2
Utricularia resupinata Northeastern Bladderwort 2
Vaccinium cespitosum Dwarf Bilberry 2
Valeriana uliginosa Marsh Valerian 2
Verbena simplex Narrow-leaved Vervain 2
Viola striata Striped Violet 2
Amerorchis rotundifolia Round-leaved Orchis 1
Botrychium mormo Little Goblin Moonwort 1
Calypso bulbosa Calypso Orchid 1
Carex livida Livid Sedge 1
Carex sychnocephala Many-headed Sedge 1
Cirsium hillii Hill's Thistle 1
Eleocharis rostellata Beaked Spike-rush 1
Galium brevipes Swamp Bedstraw 1
Juglans cinerea Butternut 1
Littorella uniflora American Shoreweed 1
Penstemon hirsutus Hairy Beardtongue 1
Potamogeton oakesianus Oakes' Pondweed 1
Salix sericea Silky Willow 1
Sceptridium rugulosum Rugulose Grape-fern 1
Triglochin palustris Slender Bog Arrow-grass 1

Community opportunities

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community management opportunities

The Northeast Sands 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
Bracken GrasslandMajor
Coldwater streamsMajor
Conifer PlantationMajor
Coolwater streamsMajor
Floating-leaved MarshMajor
Lacustrine Mud FlatMajor
Northern Dry Forest--late seralMajor
Northern Dry Mesic--late seralMajor
Northern Wet-mesic ForestMajor
Pine BarrensMajor
Alder ThicketImportant
Bedrock GladeImportant
Black Spruce SwampImportant
Boreal Rich FenImportant
Dry CliffImportant
Emergent MarshImportant
Glaciere Talus (Felsenmeer)Important
Moist CliffImportant
Northern Hardwood SwampImportant
Northern Mesic Forest--late seralImportant
Northern Sedge MeadowImportant
Northern Tamarack SwampImportant
Northern Wet ForestImportant
Open BogImportant
Poor FenImportant
Small Lake--hard, bogImportant
Small Lake--otherImportant
Small Lake--soft, bogImportant
Spring Pond, Lake--SpringImportant
Springs and Spring Runs (Hard)Important
Springs and Spring Runs (Soft)Important
Submergent MarshImportant
Boreal ForestPresent
Central Sands Pine - Oak ForestPresent
Ephemeral PondPresent
Floodplain ForestPresent
Forested SeepPresent
Inland BeachPresent
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
Riverine Impoundment - ReservoirsPresent
Riverine Lake - PondPresent
Riverine Mud FlatPresent
Shrub CarrPresent
Surrogate GrasslandsPresent
Wild Rice MarshPresent

General opportunities

General management opportunities 1

Roughly 75% of the Northeast Sands is forested, playing an important role in the landscape's high water quality, providing extensive forest habitat, supporting local economies and offering many management opportunities. Opportunities exist to maintain large habitat patches and improve connectivity between smaller forest patches; both of these would help avoid problems associated with fragmentation and isolation and should benefit area-sensitive species. Older forests are scarce here, as they are in most of the state, and working forests could include areas with extended rotations, the development of old-growth characteristics and/or stands of "managed old-growth."

Dry forest types are prevalent, but many other types are also significant. Many forests here are now managed for aspen, but there are good opportunities to maintain dry forests of other early successional species such as jack pine and scrub oak, as well as older mesic forests of beech-hemlock, dry-mesic forests of white and red pine and wet-mesic forests of white cedar. Northern Wet-mesic Forests dominated by white cedar are common here; these forests have high ecological value and support numerous rare or uncommon plants and animals, but they are susceptible to negative impacts from hydrological modifications and excessive browse pressure. Good opportunities to protect this fragile natural community occur on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, within several state wildlife areas and on the Marinette and Oconto County Forests.

Barrens and bracken grassland communities, once a much more common feature here, represent important restoration and management opportunities, and active projects are underway at several locations. Some of these projects could be expanded and/or made more compatible with management of adjoining dry forests. Where possible, early successional forests could be managed in association with remnant barrens and bracken grasslands to increase connectivity between open areas that are now isolated, increasing effective habitat size, reducing undesirable edge impacts and supporting additional open country animals.

Several Northeast Sands streams offer opportunities to protect aquatic habitats of high biodiversity value. There are good opportunities to protect and maintain river and stream corridors, including those of the Menominee, Peshtigo, Oconto, Wolf, Pine, Pike and some of their tributaries. Some of the streams are bordered by bedrock outcroppings, stands of conifers and/or relatively old forest, which support, or have the potential to support, species that are rare elsewhere in the Ecological Landscape and surrounding region.

Bedrock features, such as cliffs, glades and talus slopes, are well represented in some parts of the Northeast Sands, and these merit protection for their unusual biota, as well as the aesthetic and recreational interest they stimulate. Other miscellaneous features of potentially high local and regional ecological value include undeveloped lakes and ponds, bogs, fens, sedge meadows, marshes and alder swamps.

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


Northeast Sands 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 Northeast Sands Ecological Landscape. The Northeast Sands 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