Volunteers and Invasive Plants: Learning and Lending a Hand link

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

Volunteers and Invasive Plants: Learning and Lending a Hand

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Volunteers In Action

Benefits of Being a Volunteer

A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.

– Chinese proverb


Photo of National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Volunteer of the Year for 2006, Tim Anderson, with Dale Hall, Director of USFWS.

National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Volunteer of the Year for 2006, Tim Anderson, with Dale Hall, Director of USFWS. Photo credit: T Heilemann/ Dept. of Interior

Weed Roundup
Photo of volunteers receiving information for the weed roundup.

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Refuge volunteers take pride in maintaining healthy ecosystems, creating desired plant communities, and restoring impacted landscapes by aiding in the management of invasive plants.

But, it’s not all give, give, give—volunteers get something back too. In fact, many volunteers find that they get as much out of volunteering as the give. Whether it is feeling like an intricate part of your community or meeting new friends, volunteering in the Refuge System is rewarding.

Some volunteers are specifically looking for a refuge experience. Others are looking to get involved with a more general outdoor pursuit where they can give something back. Either way, volunteering at a refuge can foster a sense of community involvement.

Volunteers get to know other folks with similar interests. Whether it is a conservation ethic, a love of birding or the enjoyment of recreating outside, like-minded volunteers gather together to share their passions while contributing to the good of their community.

Many volunteer jobs involve working together with several new people. Other tasks involve groups of people in “work parties.” These events are as social as they are productive. When many hands work together, not only do a lot of invasive plants get pulled or natives planted, but camaraderie grows that often carries on beyond the refuge.


As the song says, “This land is your land, this land is my land…” and this is true for National Wildlife Refuges. Most refuges were set aside to protect migrating birds for the benefit of the American people, and refuge volunteers are invested in their protection.

Photo of the Interagency Volunteer Pass.Volunteering adds to a sense of personal ownership in the Refuge System. And while that sense of ownership benefits the refuges and all the plants and animals that reside or migrate there, a personal connection with a refuge benefits volunteers too. Volunteers are awarded an Interagency Volunteer Pass after accruing 500 volunteer hours. This pass allows volunteers free entry to federal lands that charge fees, for one year.


Photo of volunteers learning to use a GPS to map invasive plants.

Volunteers learning to use a GPS to map invasive plants at James Campbell NWR, Hawaii. Photo credit: USFWS

Increasingly, refuge staff are incorporating additional learning opportunities as a benefit to volunteers.
Refuge staff may offer
  • nature walks
  • birding adventures
  • natural history lectures
  • technology training
Many volunteers appreciate the new skills they gain as part of their experience in a refuge.
These skills may
  • increase personal knowledge
  • provide personal satisfaction
  • improve a job resume
  • enhance a college application

While most people volunteer for altruistic reasons, they enjoy learning more about the refuge they are helping to manage.


Backcountry Experiences
Image of first slide in the backcountry experiences slide show.

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On some refuges, volunteers get to explore areas the general public is not allowed to visit. These sensitive areas are often some of the wildest parts of the Refuge System. Whether it is canoeing into Nisqually NWR in Washington, flying into a remote Alaskan field camp at Innoko NWR in Alaska or driving a bumpy dirt road at Hakalau Forest NWR in Hawaii, volunteers get to go where few citizens have gone before.