Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
ELEVATION: 850 to 1,725 feet (259 to 526 m).
AREA: 2,731 square miles (7,079 sq km).
CLIMATE: Growing season is 90 to 140 days; the longest growing season is in the south and the shortest is in the north (Eichenlaub et al. 1990). Annual precipitation is relatively uniform, 30 to 32 inches. Snowfall is about 100 inches in the west and only 50 inches in the east. Extreme minimum temperature ranges from -28½F to -44½F, warmest at the south end of the sub-subsection.
BEDROCK GEOLOGY: Bedrock is not exposed; drift thicknesses are 500 to 1,000 feet, some of the thickest in the State (Akers 1938). This sub-subsection is underlain primarily by Paleozoic bedrock (primarily Pennsylvanian sandstone, shale, coal, and limestone) and Mesozoic bedrock (Jurassic red beds consisting mainly of sandstone, shale, and clay, with minor beds of limestone and gypsum) (Dorr and Eschman 1984, Milstein 1987).
LANDFORMS: Steep end-moraine ridges. The highest point in Lower Michigan (1,725 feet) is here, near Cadillac. The large sand ridges, 200 to 500 feet high, generally have well-drained soils. Most depressions between the moraine ridges do not contain wetlands because of the extreme thickness of the coarse, sandy till deposits. The ridges are moderate to steeply sloped; slopes of more than 12 percent are common, and the steepest slope class is 18 to 40 percent (Buchanan 1985).
Outwash channels, relatively common in the sub-subsection, occurr as either narrow deposits between the moraines or as relatively broad plains. The larger outwash plains often consist of several terraces of rolling, excessively drained sand plain.
LAKES AND STREAMS: The Muskegon River occupies the largest outwash channel in the sub-subsection; the present river occupies only a small part of the outwash channel, which is several miles wide. Other rivers are the Pine, Little Manistee, and the Little Muskegon. Modern rivers have typically cut deep gorges through the thick outwash deposits.
Kettle lakes are not common within this sub-subsection, when compared to other areas of end moraine, probably because many of the ice-block depressions are dry. The largest lakes, Mitchell, Cadillac, and Missaukee, are located on either outwash or small lake plains, rather than within the end-moraine topography.
SOILS: Soils are well drained and excessively well drained sands developed from thick deposits of sandy till. An argillic (clay) horizon is seldom encountered, partially due to a lack of a silt or clay fraction in the till. Poorly drained soils, found in depressions at the foot of the steep ridges, occupy only about 10 percent of the endmoraine landscape. Many of the foot slopes are well drained as a result of the sandy soil texture of both surface soils and the thick underlying parent material. Soils are classified as moderately sloping Haplorthods plus Glossoboralfs and Udipsamments (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1967).
PRESETTLEMENT VEGETATION: GLO surveyors reported oak-pine forest and jack pine barrens, silver maple-dominated flood-plain forest, and hardwood-conifer and conifer swamps. The original vegetation on the end-moraine ridges was northern hardwood forests of beech, sugar maple, red oak, and hophornbeam. Hemlocks were present, in low numbers in moister ravines and on northern-aspect slopes. White pines were scattered in low numbers throughout the hardwood forests. On the excessively drained sandy ridges, there were oakpine forests, containing red and white pine; red, white, and black oak; red maple; and bigtooth aspen.
The original forests of the outwash were oak-pine forests containing red pine, white pine, red oak, white oak, black oak, red maple, and bigtooth aspen. The droughtiest terraces of the outwash plains originally supported jack pine and northern pin oak; forest structure and dominance changed little in these dry barrens after logging.
Most of the outwash plain through which the Muskegon River flows supported either pine-oak forest or jack pine barrens, but extensive swamp forests and flood-plain forests occur within 2 to 3 miles of the river. The active flood plain is dominated by a forest of silver maple, red ash, and black ash; but the swamps farther away from the river are conifer or hardwood-conifer swamps on peat.
NATURAL DISTURBANCE: Windthrows are common on moraines, but were generally small. Fires also occurred, but these were also small.
PRESENT VEGETATION AND LAND USE: The present forests are oak dominated on outwash plains and beech-sugar maple dominated on moraines. Land is managed primarily for timber. White and red pines were cut in the 1870's to 1890's, and logs were transported by narrow-gauge railroads where river access was poor (Meek 1986, Koch 1979). Pine logging resulted in a major change in overstory dominance; post-logging forests are dominated by oaks, bigtooth aspen, and red maple. Hardwoods were logged later.
RARE PLANT COMMUNITIES: None identified to date.
RARE PLANTS: Geum triflorum (prairie-smoke).
RARE ANIMALS: Haliaeetus leucocephalus (bald eagle), Pandion haliaetus (osprey), and Gavia immer (common loon) are common on the larger lakes.
NATURAL AREAS: None.
PUBLIC LAND MANAGERS: Manistee National Forest, Pere Marquette State Forest, Haymarsh Lake State Game Area, Houghton Lake Wildlife Research Area.
CONSERVATION CONCERNS: As a result of major changes in forest composition after logging, there are few Forest Service Research Natural Areas in this sub-subsection. The extensive hardwood-dominated forests are probably important for song bird migration and successful nesting. The Muskegon River flood plain and associated wetlands form one of the more extensive wetland forest corridors in the State; it has not been adequately surveyed to determine its full biological significance.