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Regional Landscape Ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin


SECTION IX. NORTHERN CONTINENTAL MICHIGAN, WISCONSIN, AND MINNESOTA


Part of Bailey and Cushwa's (1981) Humid Temperate Domain, Humid Warm-Summer Continental Division, Laurentian Mixed Forest Province; Precambrian Shield bedrock, late Wisconsinan-age glaciated landscape; northern hardwoods forest, white pinered pine forest, jack pine barrens, hardwood-conifer and conifer swamp, bog.
Section IX contains eight subsections: Spread Eagle-Dunbar Barrens, Michigamme Highland, Upper Wisconsin/Michigan Moraines, Lincoln Formation Till Plain, Lac Veaux Desert Outwash Plain, Bergland, Keweenaw, Lake Superior Lake Plain.
DISCUSSION: Section IX is underlain by highly resistant igneous and metamorphic bedrock of the Precambrian Shield. It has been overridden by continental glaciers many times; each time the glacier eroded some of the underlying bedrock and redeposited glacial drift upon the bedrock or older underlying glacial deposits. The result is a diverse landscape of glacially scoured bedrock ridges and irregularly overlain glacial features, including moraines, lake beds, and outwash channels and plains.

A combination of cold climate, resulting from both the high latitude and high continentality, and relatively nutrient-poor, rocky, acidic soils has resulted in minimal use of most of the section for agriculture. However, the silty soils of Sub-subsection IX.3.3 in north-central Wisconsin are used for farming. Most of the section is managed as either private or public forest. Mining was important here in the past, but has decreased significantly in recent years.

ELEVATION: 602 to 1,980 feet (184 to 604 m).

AREA: 31,320 square miles (81,118 sq km).

STATES: Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

CLIMATE: Strongly continental, with only moderate influence from Lake Superior. Temperatures are extremely cold in the winter. Snowfall and rainfall are heavy adjacent to Lake Superior as a result of moisture-laden air from the lake being forced to rise rapidly over the bedrock uplands at the northern edge of the section (Eichenlaub et al. 1990, Eichenlaub 1979, Wisconsin Statistical Reporting Service 1967, Albert et al. 1986).

The winter precipitation is intermediate between that of Section X to the west and Section VIII to the east; 14 to 29 percent of the precipitation occurs between November and February, with the lower percentages to the south and west. This probably accounts for the reduced numbers of forest fires in the northern and eastern parts, along with the reduced dominance of upland conifers.

BEDROCK GEOLOGY: Large exposures of Precambrian bedrock are found throughout the northern part. Glacial drift thickness is quite variable; some drift is thicker than 200 feet (Doonan and Hendrickson 1968, Thwaites 1929). Large exposures of bedrock occur in the Michigamme subsection ( IX.2), where the bedrock knobs consist primarily of granites and gneiss, but also contain the important Negaunee iron formation (Dorr and Eschman 1984, Reed and Daniels 1987). On the Keweenaw Peninsula (Sub-subsection IX.7.1 and IX.7.2), middle Precambrian volcanics, conglomerates, sandstones, and shales are exposed; middle Precambrian volcanics, conglomerates, and shales are also exposed on Isle Royale. Three iron mining ranges are in the section: the Marquette, Menominee, and Gogebic (Dorr and Eschman 1984). The iron formation is all of Huronian (middle Precambrian) age. Most iron mines are now inactive. Copper was mined from the Keweenawan (late Precambrian)-age lavas and conglomerates on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

At the southern edge of the section, Cambrian sandstone, with some dolomite and shale, underlies the glacial drift (Ostrom 1981). Locally, Cambrian sandstone is within a few feet of the surface (Hole and Germain 1994).

The bedrock here was abraded by continental glaciation and incorporated into the glacial drift, accounting for the red soils found in much of the section.

LANDFORMS: Exposed bedrock knobs occur commonly in the north. The most common features are ground- and end-moraine ridges, which occur throughout. Clayey glacial lake plains occur near Lake Superior, extending as far as 30 miles inland. Several extensive outwash plains occur, including one near Lac Vieux Desert along the Wisconsin/Michigan boundary and another along the Michigamme River in Michigan.

SOILS: Stony, red, sandy loams are common on the moraines. One to two feet of wind-blown silt (loess) blanket large areas, creating a silt-loam surface soil (Hole and Germain 1994, Hole 1976, Albert 1990); this loess cap becomes thin and discontinuous in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Both the sandy loam and silt loam soils tend to be acidic. Lacustrine deposits are generally silt- and clay-rich (Cummins and Grigal 1981, Hole 1976, Veatch 1953); these fine-textured soils are typically somewhat leached (Hole and Germain 1994). Outwash soils are acidic sand and gravels with little accumulation of organic material. Major soils are classified as Spodosols (Orthods), with some Boralfs, Ochrepts, Aquepts, and Psamments (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1967, Anderson and Grigal 1984).

PRESETTLEMENT VEGETATION: The original vegetation on the thick till soils was northern hardwood forests dominated by sugar maple, eastern hemlock, basswood, and yellow birch, with some white pine. This forest type persists over most of the section. Beech was absent, probably because of extremely low winter minimum temperatures. On thin soils and bedrock knobs, red pine, white pine, and red oak were common dominants. On some of the exposed bedrock knobs of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains, and Isle Royale, a dwarf "krummholz" forest of red oak occurred. Fire-tolerant jack pine and northern pin oak grew on the droughty, flat outwash plains.

The highly dissected lacustrine clay plain along Lake Superior supported a diverse hardwood-conifer forest, which included white pine, eastern hemlock, balsam fir, northern white-cedar, trembling aspen, balsam poplar, and paper birch (Comer et al. 1993a). Northern hardwoods and almost pure stands of hemlock or white pine occurred on some upland plateaus on the lake plain.

Wetlands were not extensive. However, numerous bogs occurred in the kettle depressions within the end moraines, and tamarack-black spruce swamps were in the broad valleys between broad ground-moraine ridges. Hardwood-conifer swamp occurred on the poorly drained portions of the lake plain. Larger flood plains were often dominated by American elm, green and black ashes, and occasionally silver maple. Smaller flood plains were more typically dominated by conifers, especially balsam fir.

NATURAL DISTURBANCE: Large windthrows were documented in the GLO surveys for hardwood-dominated end moraines and shallow-soiled bedrock ridges. Windthrow also appears to have been a common form of disturbance on large areas of ground moraine (my interpretation of Canham and Loucks (1984)). Fire was important on droughty outwash plains, bedrock ridges, and conifer-dominated wetlands; all of these are dominated by upland or wetland conifers.

PRESENT VEGETATION AND LAND USE: The primary land use is forestry. Logging of white and red pines for construction lumber began in the latter part of the 19th century and continued into the early 20th century. Logging of the pines was followed by logging of eastern hemlock for tannin from the bark and later logging of northern hardwoods for furniture and pulp. Damage caused by late 19th and early 20th century logging and subsequent slash fires is still much in evidence today; much of the land that was originally forested with northern hardwoods or pine was reforested with aspen-paper birch, species still prominent today. Logging of northern hardwoods, aspen, and jack pine for paper production continues.

Several iron formations were mined in the past in the Menominee, Penokee, Gogebic, and Michigamme Ranges of Michigan and Wisconsin. Copper was also mined on the Keweenaw Peninsula and near the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan. Mining resulted in rapid, early development of the section, including logging for mine timbers, housing, and fuel. However, in Wisconsin and Michigan, mining is no longer a major industry, and human populations and development have slowed or stopped in most mining areas.

RARE PLANT COMMUNITIES: Bedrock beach and balds, bedrock knobs with krummholz or boreal and western herbs and shrubs, are found on the lavas and conglomerates along Lake Superior.

RARE PLANTS: See subsections and sub-subsections.

RARE ANIMALS: See subsections and sub-subsections.

NATURAL AREAS: Only the largest areas are listed here; see individual subsections and sub-subsections for others. Michigan: Isle Royale National Park, Porcupine Mountains State Wilderness Area and Park, McCormick Research Natural Area (Ottawa National Forest), Sylvania Wilderness Area (Ottawa NF), Huron Mountain Club. Wisconsin: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Minnesota: Jay Cooke State Park.

PUBLIC LAND MANAGERS: Michigan: Ottawa National Forest; Iron River, Copper Country, Escanaba River State Forests. Wisconsin: Nicolet and Chequamegon National Forests; Northern Highland State Forests. Minnesota: Nemadji State Forest.

CONSERVATION CONCERNS: The section makes up a large part of the deciduous hardwood forest in the Northeastern United States. Its forests have been recognized as the major breeding area for many migratory song bird species. Large portions are managed as state and national forest and contain large, unbroken tracts of forest. This land is a potential site for large-scale experimentation to determine the impacts upon biotic diversity of various spatially and temporally configured timber cuts and other timber management approaches, including use of fire.

Although the timber-resource inventory and the relationships of game wildlife to the timber resource are well documented, there is still a tremendous need for inventory of the understory flora and nongame fauna. Ecological Classification Systems (ECS) are better developed here than in any other part of the country, providing a framework for such biological inventories. Linking of biological inventories to ECS has begun on the Ottawa, Chequamegon, and Nicolet National Forests.

BOUNDARY JUSTIFICATIONS: The Precambrian Shield roughly defines the eastern boundary in Michigan and the southern boundary in Wisconsin. The boundary between Sections IX and X along the Wisconsin/Minnesota border is marked by a change in primary dominance by northern hardwoods on mesic sites in Section IX to dominance by conifers on similar mesic sites in Section X of Minnesota. This shift is probably related to more severe spring and summer drought in Section X. Rapid increase in relief and elevation and the general irregularity of topography are responsible for increased "orthograpic" snowfall in Section IX.


Previous Section -- Section VIII. Northern Lacustrine-Influenced Upper Michigan and Wisconsin
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Next Section -- Section X. Northern Minnesota

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