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Chippewa Lobe Rocky Ground Moraines

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About the Chippewa Lobe Rocky Ground Moraines

The Chippewa Lobe Rocky Ground Moraines is a region in north-central Wisconsin. It overlaps largely, but not completely, with the region described in some documents as the Central Wisconsin Loess Plains.

This region has slightly irregular terrain, formed mostly as ground moraine, with small areas of terminal moraine or stagnation moraine. There are some areas of drumlins, trending northeast-southwest, but the drumlins are a less pronounced here than those of some regions. There are numerous narrow, poorly-drained outwash channels. There are few large lakes, but some areas of peatlands, and many streams and rivers, mostly flowing to the southwest. In the south of this region there is a broad area over which numerous small streams flow parallel to each other in the southwest direction. The largest river is the Chippewa River, and its largest tributary the Flambeau River.

The soils here are complex and heterogeneous in texture. This area was covered in loess, fine-textured wind-blown deposits, which tends to form silt loams that are relatively fertile. Underlying the loess, however, was glacial till that tends to be an acidic sandy loam with a high portion of sand and rock in the mix. However, the repeated action of frost heaving, digging by animals, and windthrow has tended to mix together the different layers to where the surface soils here have particles of different sizes, including silt, loam, sand, and rocks; there is little clay in the soil, but soils are often still poorly-drained due to the fine silt and rock content.

This region was originally mostly covered in northern mesic forests, with eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), and red pine (Pinus resinosa). This region is near the western range limit of hemlock, and hemlock was largely absent from the west of this region. Wetter sites, more common in the east, supported swamp forests of northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis), black ash (Fraxinus nigra), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), black spruce (Picea mariana), and tamarack (Larix laricina).

There is some agriculture here, mostly on the sites with silt-loam soil textures, but overall agriculture is limited by the rocky, poorly-drained soils. The region mostly supports dairy farms, including some pastureland on areas with sandy soil, but there is some local crop production. Overall though the dominant land use here is forestry; management of the forests here for hardwoods can be intensive. This region is sparsely populated; the largest town is Ladysmith, and others include Park Falls, Phillips, and Cornell.

The largest rivers here have been altered by damming to create reservoirs, the largest two being the Dairlyland Reservoir upstream from Ladysmith, and a dam just south of Holcombe creating the Holcombe Flowage; there is also a dam near Cornell creating the Cornell Flowage, and another at Jim Falls creating Old Abe Lake. The damming of these rivers destroyed an overwhelming majority of floodplain or bottomland forests and wet meadows in the covered areas, and led to steeper banks along the reservoirs, with a less-diverse forest composition, mostly reflecting the northern mesic forests of the surroundings, but with a greater portion of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) due to the disturbed habitat. The sediment from these reservoirs has, in places, accumulated high levels of heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, nickel, lead, and zinc. Mercury accumulation may be due to historical usage of phenyl mercuric acetate by paper mills in the region; the use of this chemical was discontinued in 1971. Outside of this issue with heavy metals in sedimentation, water quality remains good.

This region is bordered to the east by the Northern Wisconsin Highlands Lakes Country, which has sandy soils and a much higher density of lakes. To the north, this region borders the Chequamegon Moraines and Outwash Plain. In the east, this region partly surrounds and is bordered to the south by the rugged, almost exclusively forested Perkinstown End Moraines, and in the west, it is bordered to the south by the flat, largely agricultural Central Wisconsin Undulating Till Plain. To the west, this region is bordered by the Blue Hills, a more rugged area with igneous intrusions and a high density of glacial lakes.