region K Area 94d larger picture

Northern Highland Sandy Drift

Superior Upland Province of the Laurentian Upland.

Total Land Area 2,100 square miles (5,445 square kilometers).

99% of area in Wisconsin
1% of area in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan

Towns/cities include:
Rhinelander, Eagle River, Minocqua, Tomahawk, Mercer, and Land O'Lakes, Wisconsin.

Almost all of the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation is in the northwestern part of the area.

Most of the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest is in the north-central part of the area.
Small parts of the Chequamegon and Nicolet National Forests are just inside the northwestern and northeastern boundaries of this area, respectively.


Precambrian-age bedrock underlies most of the glacial deposits in this area. The bedrock is a complex of folded and faulted igneous and metamorphic rock that has been modified by glaciation. The bedrock is covered in most areas by Pleistocene deposits as much as 330 feet (100 meters) thick. Most of the Pleistocene sediment was deposited during the last part of the Wisconsin Glaciation.

Three distinct glacial lobes of the Laurentian Ice Sheet have played major roles in shaping the landscape.

  • Wisconsin Valley
  • Langlade
  • Ontonagon
  • The area is characterized by outwash plains (some of which are pitted or collapsed) and kame moraines intermixed with bogs and swamps and a few isolated drumlins. In much of the area, slopes are nearly level to gently rolling and local relief is only 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters). It has many lakes. The streams generally form a dendritic drainage pattern.

    Topography -

    Elevation ranges from about 1,500 feet (455 meters) to about 1,850 feet (565 meters).
    Relief ranges from 20 to more than 330 feet (6 to more than 100 meters) on the moraines.


    The average annual precipitation in this area is 30 to 35 inches (760 to 890 millimeters).
    About two-thirds of the rainfall occurs as convective thunderstorms during the growing season.
    The average annual temperature is 39 to 41 degrees F (4 to 5 degrees C).
    The freeze-free period averages about 140 days and ranges from 125 to 155 days.

    Major Hydrologic Unit Areas

    Name Code Extent*
    Wisconsin (0707) 68%
    Chippewa (0705) 29%
    Southern Lake Superior-Lake Superior (0402) 2%
    Western Lake Superior (0401) 1%

    * this is the percent of area drained by each named hydrologic unit

    Major rivers crossing area include:
    The Wisconsin, Tomahawk, and Manitowish Rivers are the major streams draining this area.


    Estimated withdrawls in this MLRA:
    Public supply surface water 64.3% ground water 0%
    Livestock surface water 18% ground water 17.7%
    Irrigation surface water 0% ground water 0%
    Other surface water 0% ground water 0%

    Total daily withdrawls average 4 million gallons per day (15 million liters).
    18% Ground water sources
    82% Surface water sources

    Surface water and ground water are very abundant and readily available. The sources of surface water are the many lakes and streams. Water quality is generally good. Most of the lakes and streams are clear, but those that receive deposits of organic material from wetland vegetation are tinted brown. The surface water is used mostly for recreational activities.

    This area has three types of lakes:

    Spring lakes seldom have an inlet, but they have an outlet with substantial flow. They are fed by ground water. Spring lakes have a high mineral content because they receive the greatest amount of ground water. Water in the spring lakes has reaction similar to that of the ground water.

    Seepage lakes generally do not have an inlet or an outlet but may have an intermittent outlet. The water level is maintained by the water table or a well sealed lake bottom. Seepage lakes have a very low mineral content. Seepage lakes are commonly acidic.

    Drainage lakes have an outlet and at least one inlet. Their main water source is drainage from streams. Drainage lakes have a lower mineral content than spring lakes. Some drainage lakes are alkaline.

    In general, about 80% of the lakes are acid, having a pH of less than 7.0. The rest are neutral or alkaline, having a pH of 7.0 or higher.

    Extensive building of cottages and houses along the lakes and streams is a potential problem for maintaining water quality. Effluent from sewage disposal facilities pollutes the water and results in the growth of weeds and algae. This problem is especially severe in seepage lakes where there is little water exchange.

    Good-quality ground water comes from glacial deposits. The total mineral content in this water is commonly less than 150 parts per million (milligrams per liter). The main components of the water are calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate ions.

    Locally, the dissolved mineral content can be much higher because of a high content of limestone in some of the glacial deposits. In some areas minor problems may be caused by hardness or by high concentrations of iron.

    Ground water yields from glacial deposits vary. Glacial drift consisting mainly of sand and gravel yields 100 to more than 1,000 gallons per minute (380 to more than 3,785 liters per minute). Glacial till yields generally less than 100 gallons per minute (380 liters per minute).

    Supplies of ground water may be inadequate where glacial deposits are thin over crystalline bedrock. Generally, the fractured crystalline bedrock does not supply much water, although locally it provides a small amount (8 gallons, or 30 liters, per minute) for domestic uses.


  • Frigid soil temperature regime.
  • Aquic or udic soil moisture regime.
  • mixed mineralogy
  • Dominant Soils:

  • Spodosols
  • Histosols
  • Soils on the uplands range from very deep, excessively drained to somewhat poorly drained, and sandy or loamy.
    The soils on lowlands range from very deep, poorly drained or very poorly drained, and sandy, loamy, or mucky.

    Great Group Series Location
    Haplorthods Croswell, Rubicon, Vilas, Sayner, Manitowish, Tipler, Pence, and Padusand Karlin series formed in sandy outwash or loamy drift over sandy outwash.
    Endoaquods Kinross and Au Gres Wormet and Worcesterseries formed in sandy outwash or loamy drift over sandy outwash on outwash plains
    Haplosaprists Dawson, Loxley, and GreenwoodMarkey, Carbondale, and Seelyeville series formed in sapric material in swamps and bogs

    Fauna and Flora

    This area supports conifer-hardwood forest. Sugar maple, yellow birch, white ash, red oak, aspen, white birch, balsam fir, white spruce, eastern hemlock, red pine, white pine, and jack pine are the dominant trees.

    Poorly drained soils support black ash, green ash, red maple, black spruce, tamarack, and speckled alder.

    whitetailed deer, black bear, eastern gray wolf, ruffed grouse, sharptailed grouse, woodcock, snowshoe hare, porcupine. Red fox, bobcat, coyote, muskrat, fisher, mink, otter, raccoon, and beaver are the main furbearers.

    Land Use

    2% - Cropland - private
    2% - Grassland - private
    65% - Forest - private
    5% - - Federal
    6% - Urban development - private
    13% - Water - private
    1% - - Federal
    6% - Other - private

    Timber production and the production of large amounts of pulp are important land uses. The paper industry is the largest manufacturer. Sap collection from sugar maple and syrup production are important forestry enterprises.

    Agriculture is a minor land use because of sandy soils and the short growing season. Some corn silage, oats, and alfalfa hay are grown. Specialty crops include snap beans, potatoes, strawberries, and cranberries.

    Tourism, recreation, and wildlife management are extremely important. The vast number of lakes and public forests provide year-round opportunities for recreation and tourism.

    The major soil resource management concerns are water erosion, excessive soil wetness, soil fertility, and soil tilth. Conservation practices on cropland generally include crop rotations, conservation tillage systems (especially no-till systems), contour farming, contour stripcropping, and grassed waterways.

    Conservation practices on forestland include forest stand improvement and forest trails and landings. These practices reduce the impact of timber management activities on water quality. Riparian forest buffers help to protect streams and rivers from timber harvesting activities, improve wildlife habitat, and protect water quality.

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