State educating public about invasive worms

AP) An invasive worm that’s turned up in several parts of the state since being seen for the first time in Madison in 2013 is the target of a new public education campaign by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The agency wants to get the word out on how the public can identify jumping worms and suggest tips to slow their spread. A fact sheet is available on the agency’s website and story on the worms was published this month in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

The state Department of Natural Resources also is working with the Wisconsin First Detector Network, a training program offered by the University of Wisconsin-Extension that helps the public learn to identify and control invasive species.

Dreux Watermolen, the agency’s chief of science information services, expects the outreach planned this summer to bring about more discoveries in existing areas but doesn’t necessarily expect the worms to show up statewide anytime soon.

The agency believes jumping worms could be present in 14 Wisconsin counties, the Milwaukee

Journal Sentinel reported.

It’s too early to evaluate the effects of the worms in Wisconsin, according to officials, but they’re known to destroy surrounding vegetation in other states.

Jumping worms, which originally are from Asia, first appeared in the southern Appalachian Mountains in 1993. They’ve caused the biggest problems in the western side of the Smoky Mountains, where the leafy layer mostly is gone, park rangers have reported.

Although it’s unclear how long jumping worms have lived in Wisconsin, the 2013 discovery at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum was an ``unexpected find,’’ said Bernadette Williams, an invasive species specialist with the agency who also discovered the worms at the arboretum in Madison.

“I was amazed to see this robust population. We didn’t think it would be able to survive Wisconsin winters,’’ she said, adding that it snowed two weeks later and all of the worms died.

Experts believe the worms have spread through soil, plants or the root ball of a tree as people have transported them.

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