Managing Invasive Plants: Concepts, Principles, and Practices link

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
America's National Wildlife Refuge System

MANAGING INVASIVE PLANTS: Concepts, Principles, and Practices

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Opportunities for partnerships among agencies, organizations, universities, neighbors, and individuals are beneficial in addressing invasive plant problems in the Refuge System. Working collaboratively promotes consensus building, enhances problem solving, facilitates the exchange of valuable knowledge, provides opportunities for sharing limited resources such as labor and equipment, and much more. Due to the inherent diversity of perspectives, interests, and goals within and among groups, challenges such as managing conflict may arise; however, the value of collaborative efforts outweigh short-lived difficulties.

Volunteers and refuge Friends groups are another type of partnership that provides invaluable services to the Refuge System. More refuges are incorporating the efforts of volunteers and Friends groups into invasive plant management projects because of their enthusiasm, dedication, and willingness to learn new skills.


Photo of people working together on a computer.
Working together in finding solutions. Photo credit: J Ericson/USFWS

The science and management of plant invasions in wildland ecosystems are emerging disciplines. Preventing and controlling plant invasions is ecologically, socially, and politically complex—from the local management area to global pathways. Partnerships among land managers, weed scientists, and ecologists afford a better understanding of plant invasions and innovative strategies and technologies.

Examples of Refuge System Partnerships with Scientists

Restoration of Saltcedar-infested Floodplains
Scientists from New Mexico State University and Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico have partnered on several research projects examining various control and revegetation methods to restore saltcedar (Tamarix spp.)-infested sites to more desirable plant communities.

Predictive Modeling for Early Detection
The National Elk Refuge, US Geological Survey National Institute of Invasive Species Science, and Colorado State University have developed predictive models for identifying areas on the refuge that may be vulnerable to invasion by specific species.

Development of Biological Control Program for Phragmites australis
With support from the USFWS and other partners, scientists from Cornell University and other institutions are researching biocontrol insects and protocols that could control the introduced species Phragmites.

Ecology, Management, and Control of Chinese Tallow in Coastal Prairie
Results from a study conducted by the US Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center and refuge managers on the effects of prescribed burns on Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum) have provided information that aids in more efficient and effective management of this invasive species.

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Photo of people working together in the field.
Stakeholders are interested in refuges for various reasons but they share a common concern about the impacts of invasive plant infestations. Photo credit: A Whitlock/USFWS

From a formal multi-agency agreement to working with adjacent private landowners, many types of stakeholder partnerships are possible. Soliciting input from the start of an invasive plant management project with stakeholders not only sets the stage for productive dialogue, but also encourages long-term support and participation.

Examples of Partnerships with Stakeholders

USFWS Collaborative Invasive Plant Management Plan

USFWS Facilitated Partnership Earns National Recognition

Cooperative Weed Management Areas

Weed Prevention Areas

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The services volunteers provide to the Refuge System are invaluable. Volunteers participate in a variety of refuge work projects including the management of invasive plants. Volunteers inventory/survey, map, monitor, and aid in the control of invasive plants; help with restoration of desired vegetation; and conduct education and outreach.

In addition to the work they do, many volunteers become proponents and advocates of the refuge where they work and the entire Refuge System.

What is a Volunteer?

A USFWS volunteer is defined as

“An individual who performs hours of service for a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered, is considered to be a volunteer during such hours.” 29 CFR 553.101

Volunteers may not be compensated by the USFWS for their work, but they may be paid by an outside source or receive academic credit. They may also be provided with a living allowance and housing by the USFWS.

Volunteers and Invasive Plant Management

How volunteers help in invasive plant management varies among refuges. Well-planned and organized projects benefit both the volunteers and the refuge.

Examples of Volunteer Projects

Inventory/Survey and Mapping
Volunteers at Tetlin NWR, Alaska, collected invasive plant data that will serve as a baseline for monitoring of invasive plant spread.

Invasive Plant Control
Through a college service learning project, freshman students contribute their time to removing invasive plants at EB Forsythe NWR, New Jersey.

Education and Outreach
With support from volunteer organizations and other partners, the Rappahannock River Valley NWR, Virginia, offered a community workshop that serves as a model for future workshops.

Organizing and Recruiting Volunteers
The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges organizes and trains volunteers for invasive plant management at refuges around the state.

Recruiting and Retaining Volunteers

Before recruiting volunteers, it is helpful to first determine how the project will benefit from volunteer assistance and how volunteers will benefit from the project. Carefully crafting the goals and objectives for volunteer-assisted projects will help identify challenges, minimize problems, and increase the project’s success. Ericson et al. (in press) identify five challenges of using volunteers in invasive plant management and provide solutions to overcome these challenges.

The five challenges are

  1. selecting individual volunteers based on quality versus quantity
  2. training volunteers to identify invasive species correctly and detect new invaders
  3. knowing where to send volunteers on the landscape
  4. being conscious of quality control in data collection
  5. making the experience of the volunteer meaningful

Read more:

Choosing the Right Volunteer for the Job
Photo of volunteer with pullled purple loosestrife.
Motivated volunteers tackle hard work with enthusiasm. Photo Credit: USFWS

Much of the information on recruiting and retaining volunteers can be found in the USFWS guidebook, which also provides a wealth of information on starting and maintaining a successful volunteer program.

Read more:

The first step in recruiting a volunteer is knowing what an individual is looking for. A volunteer with a lifelong obsession with birding will be better suited building bluebird boxes or surveying birds than pulling invasive plants. Likewise, a botanist or wildflower enthusiast may appreciate the need to remove invasive plants and restore native vegetation.

Recruiting the right volunteer takes more effort and time up front, but will likely provide a volunteer that will be better suited for the job, and thus volunteer longer and be more effective. Choosing the best volunteers initially means needing to work less on retention later.

Finding Volunteers
Photo of staff talking to the public about invasive plants.
Educating people about invasive plants may pique their interest in volunteering. Photo Credit: USFWS

Finding volunteers can be a real challenge, especially if a refuge is remote. The recruiting method refuge staff use will vary based on the refuge’s needs, location, and staff time.

Some methods that refuge staff have found effective in recruiting volunteers are

  • placing an advertisement in the local newspaper
  • giving a presentation to a garden or rotary club, high school, university, or scout group
  • asking current volunteers to solicit their friends and family
  • approaching frequent refuge users or posting flyers where they will be seen by refuge visitors
  • starting a Friends group that can help recruit volunteers
  • giving volunteers t-shirts/hats that display project information to help spread the word
  • discussing volunteer opportunities at interpretive programs
Increasing Retention by Maintaining Motivation

People seek volunteer opportunities for many reasons. Motivating factors may include

  • helping in wildlife and habitat conservation
  • contributing to a local cause
  • gaining new knowledge and skills
  • seeking adventure in rural or remote places
  • making new friends

Instilling and maintaining motivation in volunteers is crucial to the success of a project and in retaining volunteers over the long term. To ensure volunteer satisfaction

  • acknowledge their contributions
  • show appreciation for their work
  • treat them with respect and fairness
  • provide them with a sufficient amount of work and supervision
  • determine if their expectations are being met

During Training

Motivating volunteers during orientation and training is a good place to begin. This is an opportunity to instill the importance of their work in helping refuges conserve and protect wildlife and habitat. Training informs volunteers about what to expect from the job and what is expected of them, and provides the background knowledge and the skills necessary (or refines the skills they already have) to increase their confidence and ability to do a good job.

As part of the training, encourage volunteers to view the USFWS invasive plant online training program that is specifically designed for volunteers. They will find the new knowledge rewarding and will appreciate the resources within the self-study modules that allow them to learn about topics more thoroughly and at their own pace.

On the Job

The invasive plant management work that volunteers participate in often involves hard physical work and challenging conditions. Frequent recognition of a volunteer’s efforts greatly contributes to maintaining morale.

Photo of volunteers working.
Volunteers are willing to perform hard work but need recognition for their efforts. Photo Credit: Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges

Ways to show appreciation and help maintain motivation:

  • give an immediate “thank you” or “great job”
  • give personal awards or certificates
  • hold a volunteer recognition banquet or other social event
  • print profiles of volunteers in the local paper or in a refuge newsletter or post on a website
  • ask the volunteers to complete a written survey on how their experience is going, whether their expectations are being met, etc.
  • ask volunteers for their ideas and acknowledge their input

Refuge staff have developed creative ways to engage volunteers in their work and also provide them with new experiences and opportunities.

Engaging and Motivating Volunteers

Work Parties
Lee Metcalf NWR, Montana, holds work parties so volunteers can engage in a social, fun atmosphere while pulling invasive plants.

Private Tours
Hakalau Forest NWR, Hawaii, offers volunteers guided bird walks and natural history hikes to learn more about the environment they are working to protect.

Special Access
At some refuges, volunteers work in parts of the refuge that are off-limits to the public or are difficult to access. For example, volunteers at Nisqually NWR, Washington, canoe into restricted areas, and at Innoko NWR, Alaska, volunteers are flown to a remote field camp.

Increased Responsibilities
San Pablo Bay NWR, California, had volunteers interested in preparing proposals for funding a greenhouse. Not only did they receive the funding, but volunteers also helped build the greenhouse and grow the plants for restoration. One volunteer was given the opportunity to hone his newly learned Global Positioning System and data collection skills so well that he was able to train other volunteers.

Read more about how volunteers are engaged in invasive plant management:

Contact a regional volunteer coordinator about working with volunteers: