Regional Landscape Ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

SUBSECTION V.1. Central Wisconsin Sand Plain

Sand lake plain and outwash plain; jack pine barrens, sedge meadows, and conifer swamps.   

DISCUSSION: Glacial Lake Wisconsin occupied much of the subsection, depositing glacial lacustrine sediments. Sub-subsections: Black River Falls (V.1.1), Camp Douglas (V.1.2), Stevens Point (V.1.3), Waupaca (V.1.4) (see figure 4).

ELEVATION: 787 to 1,331 feet (240 to 406 m).

AREA: 3,934 square miles (10,194 sq km).

STATES: Wisconsin.

CLIMATE: The growing season can be as long as 150 days in the subsection. However, it is shorter than 120 days in lowland outwash and lake plain areas, which are subject to late spring and early fall frosts (Hole and Germain 1994). Average annual precipitation is approximately 32 inches, and average annual snowfall ranges from 40 inches in the south to approximately 48 inches in the north (Wendland et al. 1992). Extreme minimum temperature ranges from approximately -35F to less than -40F (Reinke et al. 1993).

BEDROCK GEOLOGY: Subsection is underlain by Cambrian sandstone (Ostrom 1981, Morey et al. 1982), which is locally exposed as buttes, such as Friendship Mound and Roche Cris (Roche-A-Cri), where the sandstone is most resistant to weathering (Martin 1965, Hole 1968, Hole and Germain 1994). Precambrian-age (Archean) gneiss and amphibolite occur at the northern edge of the sub-subsection (Morey et al. 1982). Granitic rock of the Wolf River batholith (Precambrian age) occurs in the northeast.

LANDFORMS: The western three-quarters of the subsection is flat lacustrine sand plain and outwash plain, characterized by either extremely droughty or poorly drained soils (Hole 1968, 1976). The lake plain has areas of stabilized sand dune. The remaining eastern quarter of the subsection is rolling and undulating moraine and pitted outwash, with a narrow band of lacustrine sands at the extreme eastern edge. There are numerous exposed sandstone buttes in the west (Hole and Germain 1994). The buttes often stand 200 to 300 feet above the adjacent plain.

A broad outwash plain is located in the center, generally along the east side of the Wisconsin River, and bordering the western edge of the pitted outwash and moraine.

West of the outwash plain was a broad expanse of sand lake plain, which had both poorly drained sands and excessively drained sands. On the lake plain, there is a complex mosaic of plant communities that include conifer-dominated swamp forest, marsh and sedge meadow, and jack pine-northern pin oak barrens. The predominant landforms are glacial lake bed and outwash plain, with some pitted outwash and ground moraine at the eastern edge.

LAKES AND STREAMS: No large natural lakes. The Wisconsin River is the largest river that flows through the subsection; other rivers include the Yellow, Lemonweir, and the East Fork of the Black.

SOILS: Parent material for soils is sand, either poorly drained or excessively drained on the outwash and lake plain. Sedge peat has formed on the sand lake plain and more locally on the outwash. Soils on the moraines and pitted outwash are loamier.

PRESETTLEMENT VEGETATION: Droughty outwash and sand lake plain supported jack pine-northern pin oak barrens. Poorly drained outwash and sand lake plain supported sedge meadows, bog, marsh, or conifer swamps of tamarack and black spruce. The pitted outwash and moraines supported forests of white oak, black oak, and bur oak.

NATURAL DISTURBANCE: Fire and seasonal flooding both occurred commonly.

PRESENT VEGETATION AND LAND USE: Most of the dry barrens and poorly drained lake plain remain with original vegetation, but the poorly drained soils of the outwash plain have been ditched and converted to agriculture.

RARE PLANT COMMUNITIES: Coastal plain marsh and white pine-red maple-dominated flatwoods occur nowhere else in Wisconsin.

RARE PLANTS: Anemone multifida (Hudson Bay anemone), Bartonia virginica (screwstem), Fuirena pumila (umbrella sedge), Myriophyllum farwellii (Farwell's water-milfoil), Oxytropis campestris var. chartacea (Fassett's locoweed), Polygala cruciata (cross milkwort), Rhexia virginica (Virginia meadow beauty), Thelypteris simulata (Massachusetts fern).

RARE ANIMALS: Erynnis persius persius (Persius dusky wing), Incisalia irus (frosted elfin), Lycaeides melissa samuelis (Karner blue), Ophisaurus attenuatus (western slender glass lizard), Sistrurus catenatus (eastern massasauga rattlesnake), Tympanuchus cupido (greater prairie chicken).

NATURAL AREAS: Wisconsin: State Natural Areas: Necedah Oak-Pine Savanna and Forest (also Federal Research Natural Area), Castle Mound Pine Forest, Buena Vista Quarry Prairie, Summerton Bog, Lawrence Creek, Buena Vista Prairie Chicken Meadow, Ennis Lake-Muir Park, Comstock Bog-Meadow, Keller Whitcomb Creek Woods, Sohlberg Silver Lake, Bass Lake Fen, Myklebust Lake, New Hope Pines, Dewey Marsh, Roche-A-Cri (Roche Cris) Mound, Washburn Marsh, Pope Lake, Lost Lake, Mud Lake Bog, Baraboo River Floodplain Forest, Observatory Hill, Mud Lake-Radley Creek Savanna, Plainfield/Second Lake, Pickerel Lake, Brooks Bluff, and Jay Creek Pine Forest, Ketchum Pines, Quincy Bluff; State Parks: Roche-A-Cri (Roche Cris), Buckhorn, and Mill Bluff; The Nature Conservancy Preserves: Page Creek Marsh, Summerton Bog, Quincy Bluff.

PUBLIC LAND MANAGERS: National Wildlife Refuges: Necedah; State Forests: Black River; Wildlife Areas: Sandhill, Meadow Valley, Buena Vista Marsh, Wood County; Other: Numerous county forests.

CONSERVATION CONCERNS: Several factors are causing the continued degradation of the ecosystems of this subsection, including fire exclusion, continued alteration of wetlands through ditching/diking, expansion of the cranberry industry, and mining of ground water for irrigation. Large areas consist of pine plantation. Opportunities for large-scale conservation projects are outstanding due to large amounts of publicly owned land and relatively few competing uses for land by the private sector.


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Last modified on Wednesday, February 18, 2004
by  Sharon Hobrla