Leo Hollein dons a backpack sprayer over his long-sleeved shirt, adjusts his mask and rubber gloves, and trudges through thickets under the hot New Jersey sun to eradicate invasive plants at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. “It’s a retirement activity,” he said, “so there are no challenges.” None-the-less, herbicide application is hot, tiring work.
Hollein has been volunteering at “the Swamp” for about seven years. He first saw an advertisement looking for volunteers to work with blue bird boxes and it peaked his interest. “When I retired, I wanted to work outside and I was interested in birds—and more than just keeping a list,” he said.
What started with birds turned into a year-round volunteer experience with the work changing with the seasons. The invasive plant management projects aren’t his favorite, but they need to be done and it’s important work. After on-the-job training, Hollein began using a backpack sprayer to get rid of plants like barberry. Hollein says spraying barberry is satisfying “because it is a perennial and it really does die.” This year his focus was phragmites which was like “doing push-ups,” he recalled. Like many volunteers he’s learned that working with invasive plants takes many years.
In an article by Hollein, he wrote, “An invasive plant species out-competes other vegetation and reduces the variety of plants. A greater variety of plants will support a more diverse and vibrant wildlife population.” So in the long run his work in controlling invasive plants may help create habitat better suited for the birds he loves to watch and study.