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Regional Landscape Ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin


Part of Bailey and Cushwa's (1981) Humid Temperate Domain, Humid Warm-Summer Continental Division, Laurentian Mixed Forest Province; Great Lakes-moderated climate (Denton 1985, Eichenlaub 1979, Eichenlaub et al. 1990); late Wisconsinan-age glaciated landscape; northern hardwoods forest, jack pine barrens, white pine-red pine forest, conifer swamp, bog.
Section VIII contains three subsections: Niagaran Escarpment and Lake Plain, Luce, Dickinson.
DISCUSSION: Most of this section is characterized by relatively flat topography, with large expanses of swamp forest and low productivity peatland. Most of the landscape remains forested, except for pasture lands on both clay lake plain and loamy ground moraine.

ELEVATION: 580 to 1,300 feet (155 to 395 m).

AREA: 13,168 square miles (33,013 sq km).

STATES: Michigan and Wisconsin.

CLIMATE: Most air masses cross the Great Lakes before entering this section, resulting in reduced continentality. The part of the section with the most continental climate is in northeastern Wisconsin, where prevailing winds are less often off the Great Lakes. Compared to areas of equivalent latitude in Section IX of Wisconsin and Michigan, the section is warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Lake-effect snow and rain characterize parts of the section near the Great Lakes shorelines, especially the Lake Superior shoreline. All the sections with climates influenced by the Great Lakes have rainfall more evenly distributed throughout the year than those with more continental climates (Sections I to IV and X and XI to the west).

BEDROCK GEOLOGY: Section is underlain by Cambrian-age sandstone and Paleozoic limestone, shale, and dolomite (Dorr and Eschman 1984). Sandstone is exposed along and near the Lake Superior shoreline and along the western edge of the section. Limestone and dolomite are exposed along the Lake Michigan shoreline and locally inland. In the interior of the region, thick glacial drift covers bedrock.

LANDFORMS: The entire section was covered by late Wisconsin Glaciation; common glacial landforms include lake plain, outwash plain, end moraine, and ground moraine. Glacial lake plain covers the largest part of the section; most of the lake plains are sandy, but a large area of clay lake plain is near the eastern edge of the section. On the sand lake plains, common landforms include transverse dunes, sand spits, beach ridges, and large deltas. Broad outwash plains are located along the entire northern edge of the proglacial lakes.

Ground moraine is extensive at the western edge of the section. End moraine is common along the northern edge of the section near Lake Superior.

SOILS: Soils of the sand and clay lake plain, which are quite extensive in the section, are largely poorly drained or very poorly drained, supporting extensive peatlands and swamp forests. Soils of the extensive outwash plains are generally excessively drained sands.

The sandy and loamy tills near the southern edge of the section are quite variable in drainage class and depth to underlying bedrock. At the northern edge near Lake Superior, there are sandy tills and outwash.

The most common soil orders within the section are Alfisols (Boralfs), Histosols, and Entisols (Aquepts), with some Orthods and Aquods (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1967).

PRESETTLEMENT VEGETATION: Diverse forests (see subsections and sub-subsection). The original forests included northern hardwood forest, jack pine barrens, white pine-red pine forest, hardwood-conifer swamp, conifer swamp, and muskeg (Comer et al. 1994). Open bogs occurred on kettle lakes within end moraines and pitted outwash. Where bedrock was locally exposed or near the surface, grassland vegetation was present. There were also extensive marshes along the Great Lakes shoreline. Northern hardwood forests, with sugar maple and beech as common dominants, were concentrated on end moraines, ground moraines, and drumlin fields. Jack pine forests grew on extensive outwash plains, along with red pine-white pine forests where fires were less severe.

The sandy lake plain supported open peatlands dominated by shrubby black spruce, tamarack, and occasionally jack pine (Comer et al. 1993a). Near the margins of the lake plain, there were also extensive swamps of northern white-cedar. On the clay lake plain, the forest was a diverse mix of hardwood and conifer species, including white spruce, balsam fir, white pine, eastern hemlock, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, and red maple.

NATURAL DISTURBANCE: Windthrow was common on both upland and wetland forests, especially on the flat topography of the glacial lake plains and along the windy shorelines of the Great Lakes. Fire was important on the jack pine plains and in the red pine-white pine forests.

PRESENT VEGETATION AND LAND USE: Most of the section remains forested, except the clay lake plains, which are used for pasture and forage crops. Intensive logging for white pine occurred in the latter half of the 19th century, causing major changes in forest composition. Eastern hemlock was also logged for the tannin industry, and northern hardwoods were harvested for many uses.

RARE PLANT COMMUNITIES: A globally rare plant community, Alvar, a grassland type found growing on thin soils over limestone or dolomite, is found only in this section.

RARE PLANTS: See subsections and sub-subsections.

RARE ANIMALS: See subsections and sub-subsections.

NATURAL AREAS: See subsections and sub-subsections.

PUBLIC LAND MANAGERS: Hiawatha National Forest, Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Superior and Escanaba River State Forests.

CONSERVATION CONCERNS: Most the land surface is managed as either national or state forest, with large areas of private forest land. These forests are recognized as critical habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds.

Great Lakes shorelines are facing rapid developmental pressure, primarily for construction of second homes. The Nature Conservancy has a major Bioreserve Project underway along the northern Lake Huron shoreline, which includes Bois Blanc Island, Les Cheneaux Islands, Drummond Island, and the many small islands in the St. Marys River. Development pressures are also severe along the northern shore of Lake Michigan and on Wisconsin's Door Peninsula.

See subsections and sub-subsections.

BOUNDARY JUSTIFICATIONS: In Michigan, the boundary between Section VII and Section VIII is based on the analysis of climatic data (Denton 1985) and the boundary between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. To the west, the boundary between Section VIII and Section IX is defined roughly by the boundary between Paleozoic and Precambrian bedrocks in the center of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and eastern upper Wisconsin. The boundary with Section V in Wisconsin is determined by soil differences; a spodic horizon characterizes upland forest soils in Section VIII, but not those in Section V.

Previous Section -- Section VII. Northern Lacustrine-Influenced Lower Michigan
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Next Section -- Section IX. Northern Continental Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota

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