Waupee Lake Swamp Research Natural Area

The tuberous grasspink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus), a native plant species found in Waupee Lake Swamp RNA.  Photo by Steve Janke, 2011, USDA Forest Service.

The most important features of Waupee Lake Swamp RNA include a shallow seepage lake surrounded by swamp conifer forest plus thickets of alder and black ash.  The north and west edges of the lake are bordered by a muskeg-like forest of stunted tamarack and black spruce.  A diverse community of sedges, ericads, orchids, and insectivorous plants is also present, including three rare plants and six rare bird species. Plant communities include northern wet and wet-mesic forest, open bog, northern sedge meadow, and emergent aquatics.

Ecological Information

Physical and Climatic Conditions

Nearest weather station, with distance and direction from RNA:
Lakewood 3 NE (station no. 474523). The station is located about 15 mi (24 km) to the northwest of the RNA.
Annual precipitation (type, seasonal distribution) :
Annual precipitation averages 33 inches (84 cm), 65% of which falls between April and September. Average seasonal snowfall is 65 inches (164 cm).
Maximum and minimum temperatures:
Daily summertime temperatures average 58° F; average daily maximum temperatures average 53° F. Average temperature in the winter is 25° F; average daily minimum temperatures average 30° F.
Elevations range from 920 feet (280 m) to 950 feet (289 m) MSL.
Geology and Soils:
The RNA is underlain by precambrian metamorphic rock. Because the area was glaciated during the Pleistocene, there are no surface exposures of this rock within the RNA. The present surface material was deposited by the Green Bay lobe during the middle Woodfordian substage of the Wisconsin ice advance. Geomorphologic processes were glacial meltwater deposition. Glacial sediment is less than 30 meters thick and landforms include ground moraine and outwash plains.
Soils are loamy sand over sand. Nutrient status is poor and moisture regime is dry to dry-mesic. Upland soils of the RNA are deep, moderately well-drained and formed in sandy loam aeolian material overlying loamy sand glacial till. The area is covered by 0.5 meter or more of wind-blown sand. Wetland soils are organic, very poorly drained, slightly acid to neutral.
Aquatic Features:
The 34-acre (14 ha) Waupee Lake is a hard-water seepage lake with a maximum depth of 2 feet (0.6 m).  The lake’s shoreline is 90 percent coniferous wetland and the entire littoral zone is silt.  Waterfowl make moderate use of the lake during migration. Emergent vegetation occupies sixty percent of the lake basin.  Waupee Lake has an intermittent outlet at the south end, which drains south through a large wetland area to Little Waupee Creek, a tributary of the North Branch Oconto River.

Ecological Classification & Inventory

Laurentian Mixed Forest Province (212), Northern Great Lakes (212T)
Athelstane Sandy Outwash and Moraines (212Tc)
Land Type Association(s):
Waupee Knolls (Tc04) and Butler Plains (Tc03)
Plant Communities:

Curtis Community Type

Kotar Habitat Types

Dominant Species initial US National Vegetation Classification

Northern dry-mesic forest


red oak, sugar maple, white pine

Pinus strobus - (Pinus resinosa) - Quercus rubra Forest; CEGL002480

Northern mesic forest


eastern hemlock, yellow birch, white pine

Tsuga canadensis - (Betula alleghaniensis); EGL002598

Northern wet-mesic forest


Northern white cedar, black spruce, balsam fir

Thuja occidentalis - (Larix laricina) Seepage Forest; CEGL002455

Northern wet-mesic forest


Black ash, white cedar, balsam fir

Acer rubrum - Fraxinus spp. - Betula papyrifera / Cornus canadensis Forest; CEGL002071

Northern wet forest


black spruce, tamarack

Picea mariana-(Larix laricina)/ Ledum groenlandicum/Sphagnum spp Forest; CEGL005271

Open bog


leatherleaf, Labrador tea, bog laurel

Chamaedaphne calyculata - Ledum groenlandicum - Kalmia polifolia Bog Dwarf-shrubland; CEGL005278

Northern sedge meadow


Blue-joint grass

Calamagrostis canadensis - Eupatorium maculatum Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL005174

Lake- shallow, hard, seepage (Waupee)


White water lily, bullhead lily - emergent

Nymphaea odorata - Nuphar (microphylla, variegata) Herbaceous Vegetation; CEGL002562

Complete Plant List

Common Tree Species:
Most of the forested swamp surrounding Waupee Lake is dominated by northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis).  Associated trees include tamarack (Larix laricina), black spruce (Picea mariana), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), black ash (Fraxinus nigra), red maple (Acer rubrum), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).  An open bog also supports a variety of bog dwarf-shrubland species.
Common Herbaceous Species:
Characteristic ground flora includes bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), three-leaved goldthread (Coptis trifolia), Labrador-tea (Ledum groenlandicum), and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).  Surrounding the lake are open wetlands dominated by sedges, bulrushes, bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) and other grasses.  Associate species include eastern marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), marsh cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris) , blueflag iris (Iris versicolor), and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).  Emergent and floating-leaved vegetation include softstem bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani), cattail (Typha latifolia), and American white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata).
Common Fauna:
Common mammals of the area include snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginiana), and black bear (Ursus americanus).  A variety of avian species have also been recorded by the Nicolet Breeding Bird Survey.  Waupee Lake is a shallow lake and does not support a significant fishery.
Potential Research Topics:
This would be a good area to study ecological aspects of the flora and fauna of this large contiguous complex of wetland communities.  Areas of focus include: amphibians, reptiles, birds, rare plants, regeneration of cedar and the natural dynamics of other wetland tree species complexes and wetland ecological adaptation to climate change.

Related link: Wisconsin State Natural Areas Program Waupee Lake Swamp

Related Reports and Publications

Brzeskiewicz, Marjory.  2014.  Establishment Record for Waupee Lake Swamp Research Natural Area.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Eagle River District, Forest County, Wisconsin.   42 pp.

Curtis, J. T.  1959.  Vegetation of Wisconsin.  University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI.

Cutright, N.; Harriman, B.; Howe, R.  2006.  The Atlas of Wisconsin Breeding Birds.  Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, Milwaukee, WI.  642 pages.

Davis, J.H.; Howe, R.W.; Davis, G. 2000.  A multi-scale spatial analysis method for point data.   Landscape Ecology 15:99-114.

Donovan, T. M.; Clark, D. A.; Howe, R. W.; Danielson, B. J. 1996. Metapopulations, sources and sinks, and the conservation of neotropical migratory birds in the midwest. In: Thompson, Frank R. III, (ed.) Management of midwestern landscapes for the conservation of neotropical migratory birds. Proceedings of 1995 December 5, Detroit, Michigan. Gen. Tech. Rep. NC-187: 41-52.

Epstein, E.  1986.  Evaluation Report: Waupee Lake Candidate Research Natural Area.  On file Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources, Bureau of Endangered Resources, Madison WI.

Howe, R.W.; Wolf, A.T. 2003. A Checklist of Birds in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. USDA Forest Service Publication, Park Falls, WI.

Howe, R.W.; Wolf, A.T.; Rinaldi, T. 1994.  Monitoring birds in a regional landscape: lessons from the  Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey. pp. 83-92 in Ralph, C.J., J.Sauer, and S. Droege (eds.) Monitoring  Bird  Populations by Point Counts. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-149, Pacific Southwest Research Station,   Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Albany, CA.

Howe, R.W.; Davis, G. J.; Mosca, V. 1991. The demographic significance of "sink" populations.  Biological Conservation 57:239-255.

Hoffman, R. 1999.  Unpublished project report on Waupee Lake.

Janke, S. 1998.  Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Research Natural Area Evaluation Report: Waupee Lake.  Unpublished reports on file in Park Falls Headquarters.

Kotar, J.; Kovach, J.; Burger, T. 2002.  A Guide to Forest Communities and Habitats of Northern Wisconsin (2nd edition).  Madison: University of Wisconsin, Department of Forest Ecology and Management.

NGDC. National Geographic Data Committee. 2012. National Vegetation Classification Standard (NVCS). Available online: http://usnvc.org/explore-classification/ Accessed 2012.

Nicolet National Forest. 1994.  Environmental Assessment: Waupee Lake Candidate Research Natural Area. On file Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources, Bureau of Endangered Resources, Madison WI.

Last Modified: August 20, 2021