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Regional Landscape Ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin


SUB-SUBSECTION VII.2.2. Grayling Outwash Plain


Broad outwash plain including sandy ice-disintegration ridges; jack pine barrens, some white pine-red pine forest, and northern hardwood forest.
DISCUSSION: Sub-subsection VII.2.2 is a high outwash plain with several large lakes and rivers. Within the plain are several steep ridges surrounded by flat outwash. The climate is the most continental within the section, with extremely low winter temperatures and frosts throughout the summer.

ELEVATION: 900 to 1,580 feet (274 to 482 m).

AREA: 4,061 square miles (10,525 sq km).

STATES: Michigan.

CLIMATE: Growing season ranges from 80 to 130 days and is longest in the southeast (Eichenlaub et al. 1990). Frost danger is extreme throughout the growing season, especially at the northern and southeastern ends. Snowfall ranges from 140 inches in the northwest to 50 inches in the southeast. Heavy snows along the western edge of the sub-subsection are lake-effect snows off Lake Michigan. Annual precipitation is relatively uniform across the sub-subsection, 28 to 32 inches. Extreme minimum temperature ranges from -40½F to -48½F, warmest at the southeastern edge.

BEDROCK GEOLOGY: No exposed bedrock; glacial drift is 250 to 800 feet thick, some of the thickest in the State (Akers 1938). Underlying bedrock is primarily of Paleozic age, including Pennsylvanian and Mississippian sandstone, coal, shale, and limestone (Dorr and Eschman 1984, Milstein 1987). In the south, there is also Mesozoic bedrock, Jurassic red beds consisting mainly of sandstone, shale, and clay, with minor beds of limestone and gypsum.

LANDFORMS: A high outwash plain. Several large ridges of ice-contact sands are surrounded by the outwash; glacial meltwater streams have dissected some of the ice-contact ridges into several steep ridges. Most of the flat outwash plain is at an elevation of 1,050 to 1,300 feet. In contrast, the ice-contact moraines have maximum elevations of 1,450 to 1,580 feet.

Steepsided ice-block depressions are common locally, both on the ice-contact ridges and on parts of the outwash plains.

There are local lacustrine or till deposits of clay-loam. The two large lakes within the sub-subsection, Houghton and Higgins, are probably perched on lacustrine clay deposits; lacustrine clays were encountered at the southern and western edges of the lakes (Albert 1990).

At the northwestern edge of the sub-subsection are two narrow end-moraine ridges, separated by a narrow outwash channel, which is about 8 miles wide at its widest point. The moraines have soils and vegetation similar to those in Sub-subsection VII.2.3; the outwash channel has soils, vegetation, and severe microclimate similar to the remainder of this sub-subsection.

LAKES AND STREAMS: Large lakes occupying the outwash plains include Houghton Lake, Higgins Lake, Lake Margreth, and Lake St. Helen. Several smaller lakes occupy kettles in abandoned outwash channels. Only one large lake, Bear Lake, is located on an ice-contact ridge. Three major streams, the Manistee, Au Sable, and Muskegon Rivers, originate on the outwash plains. All these rivers are fed by several small branch rivers or creeks. Large expanses of wetland are located at the margins of the larger lakes, in the Dead Stream Swamp, and in the headwaters of the Muskegon River. Peat depths in the wetlands average between 3 and 7 feet; maximum depths reach 16 feet (LeMasters and Jones 1984).

SOILS: Slopes in the 0 to 2 percent or 3 to 6 percent classes are most common, but slopes as steep as 19 to 25 percent occur. Drainage classes range from excessively drained to somewhat poorly drained; excessively drained soils are prevalent. Most of the soils are sand or sands mixed with gravel, but localized deposits of finetextured till and lacustrine clays may be exposed at the surface. Soils of the ice-contact ridges are typically well drained to excessively well drained sands on moderately to steeply sloping topography; these soils contain very little silt or clay, and they are mapped as the same association (GraycalmMontcalm) as those on the moraines of the Cadillac sub-subsection (VII.2.1) (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1981). Soils are classified as gently sloping Haplorthods plus Glossoboralfs (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1967).

PRESETTLEMENT VEGETATION: The vegetation varied on the sandy ice-contact ridges. On the largest deposits, consisting of several large ridges, northern hardwood forests were dominated by beech and sugar maple. They also contained red oak, hemlock, and white pine. In contrast, isolated ridges commonly supported forests of jack pine and northern pin oak similar in composition to the surrounding forests on outwash. Fire frequency, controlled by soil drainage and topographic conditions of both the icecontact deposits and surrounding outwash deposits, was probably important for determining the species composition of the presettlement forests.

The vegetation on the end moraines at the northwestern edge of the sub-subsection was northern hardwood forests dominated by beech and sugar maple, with little white pine or hemlock. The narrow band of outwash between the moraines also supported northern hardwood forests except in the broadest parts, where forests of white pine and red pine were dominant. Jack pine was also dominant in a large frost pocket.

The excessively drained outwash plains originally supported savannas of jack pine and northern pin oak. Red pines were scattered within the savanna, and white pines were located on moister, less fireprone sites, such as stream margins. For the outwash plains, GLO surveyors noted burned areas of pine plain or barren covering thousands of acres.

Large and diverse wetlands were found on the poorly drained outwash. Where clay deposits were near the surface, shallow peatlands commonly occupied large areas. The map of original swamp areas in Lower Michigan (Lane 1907) indicates the presence of large tracts of swamp in areas where clay soils are near the surface. Hardwoodconifer swamps contained white pine, red pine, jack pine, trembling aspen, paper birch, balsam poplar, and red maple. In the Dead Stream Swamp, where low sand spits separate large, poorly drained flats, bogs and shrub swamps were the dominant vegetation. The abiotic conditions and vegetation were very similar to those found on lacustrine deposits in Upper Michigan. Typical tree species on the bog mat were black spruce, tamarack, and jack pine. Low sand ridges within the swamp were dominated by red, white, and jack pines. White and red pines were abundant enough in the Dead Stream Swamp area to justify construction of a railroad, which carried the lumber to the nearby Muskegon River (Meek 1986).

Swamp forests occupied the margins of most of the major stream courses; northern whitecedar was the dominant species. Balsam fir, hemlock, trembling aspen, paper birch, and several other swamp species were also found.

The small ice-block depressions on the outwash plains typically contained shrub swamps or sphagnum bogs with highly depauperate flora, probably the result of commonly recurring fires and wet soil. The dominant shrub was usually leatherleaf.

NATURAL DISTURBANCE: Fire is the most important factor shaping the forest composition of both the uplands and wetlands. GLO surveyors noted that more than 3 percent of the land area was recently burned, and several fires covered thousands of acres. Windthrows also occurred, but they were much smaller than the burned areas. Large frost pockets occurred in depressions on the outwash plain, resulting in high mortality for deciduous tree species and dominance by jack pine; these frost pockets often contained dry prairie openings.

PRESENT VEGETATION AND LAND USE: The jack pine barrens are presently managed for pulp. Many of the wetlands are managed for wildlife. Recreational use of the area is heavy, including fishing, hunting, canoeing, and snowmobiling. Fire suppression has resulted in dangerously high fuel loads within parts of the jack pine plains.

RARE PLANT COMMUNITIES: It appears that there were originally numerous small areas of dry prairie, with a northern flora, in the frost pockets, but most of these have been planted to jack pine as part of the Kirtland's warbler management plan.

RARE PLANTS: Agoseris glauca (pale agoseris), Aster longifolius (long-leaved aster), Cirsium hillii (Hill's thistle), Dalibarda repens (false-violet), Festuca scabrella (rough fescue), Lycopodium appressum (appressed bog clubmoss), Mimulus glabratus var. jamesii (James' monkey-flower), Prunus alleghaniensis (Allegheny or sloe plum), Scirpus clintonii (Clinton's bulrush), Solidago houghtonii (Houghton's goldenrod), Sporobolus heterolepis (prairie dropseed), Stellaria crassifolia (fleshy stitchwort), Viola novae-angliae (New England violet).

RARE ANIMALS: Appalachia arcana (secretive locust), Brachionyncha borealis (boreal brachionyncha), Buteo lineatus (red-shouldered hawk), Chlidonias niger (black tern), Coturnicops noveboracensis (yellow rail), Dendroica discolor (prairie warbler), Dendroica kirtlandii (Kirtland's warbler), Merolonche dolli (Doll's merolonche), Papaipema beeriana (blazing star borer).

NATURAL AREAS: State Natural Areas: Mason Tract (Au Sable River), Roscommon Red Pines; Michigan Nature Association Preserves: Prairie Chicken, Parsons Memorial, Lost Lake.

PUBLIC LAND MANAGERS: National Forests: Huron, Manistee; State Forests: Au Sable, Mackinac, Pere Marquette; State Parks: Hartwick Pines; State Recreation Areas: Rifle River; State Game Areas: Backus Creek; Kirtland's Warbler Management Areas: Fletcher Road, St. Helen, Staley Lake, Damon, Muskrat Lake, Lovells, Sharon, Warbler Monument, Ogemaw Refuge; Other: Camp Grayling Military Reservation, Sand Lakes Quiet Area (DNR), Houghton Lake Wildlife Research Area.

CONSERVATION CONCERNS: The entire breeding population of Kirtland's warbler, a federally endangered species, is found within the sub-subsection. Management for the warbler consists of clearcutting, burning, and replanting thousands of acres on a set rotation plan. Planting frost pockets to jack pine as part of the Kirtland's warbler management plan may have resulted in the destruction of dry prairies, which are also the habitat for several rare plant species.

The population of the Kirtland's warbler, only about 400 pairs for many years, has increased dramatically largely because of the Bald Hill and Mack Lake wildfires. The Mack Lake burn of May 1980 covered nearly 24,000 acres (Simard et al. 1983); about 10,000 acres of the burn proved to be good warbler habitat. Warblers colonized first the warmer, more productive high elevation outwash and ice-contact terrain and then the adjacent low elevation outwash (Zou et al. 1992, Barnes 1993).

The Huron-Manistee National Forests are now developing plans for a large corridor of forest to be managed as old growth along the Au Sable River.

JPG - Mack Lake, Oscoda County, Mich.
Figure 20.Sub-subsection VII.2.2: Mack Lake, Oscoda County, Michigan. The extensive jack-pine barrens on the flat outwash plain of this sub-subsection burned frequently. The federally threatened Kirtland's warbler nests in young jack pine in the sub-subsection. Fires are less frequent and less intense on the ridges within the outwash plain; the ridges are consequently dominated by increased amounts of red pine, white pine, and oaks. Photo by B.V. Barnes.


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