Haviland traveled to Pittsburgh last year to help the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy turn more than 4,500 vacant lots into safe parks and habitats for residents, with the help of a youth group called the Student Conservancy Association. He has also worked in south Florida with an environmental resource management team to battle a mosquito problem.
In North Bergen, he was a wetlands specialist for the organization formerly known as the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Organization, now known as the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.
A few weeks ago, Haviland was walking his dog in North Hudson Braddock Park, in close proximity to his home. He happened to stumble across the 5-acre patch of woodlands that is north of the lake and adjacent to Bruins Stadium, the home of North Bergen's athletic teams.
Haviland spotted an area that was filled with a wild shrub and weed called the multiflora rose, an exotic invasive plant.
"It's not just a weed - it's a bad weed," Haviland said. "It's an old European stock shrub and it wound up in natural areas. It was probably transported there by birds."
How bad a weed is it?
The National Park Service and the United States Fish and Wildlife call the multiflora rose the worst of the plant invaders in the Mid-Atlantic region.
"These organizations give descriptions of invasive plants and that they do, not only to other plants, but to wildlife," Haviland said. "I only became aware of how dangerous it is by working with the Pittsburgh Park Conservancy. If you walk into an area with the multiflora rose, you don't see the biodiversity. It's not how nature should have evolved. It took 10,000 years to develop that natural habitat and in that one section of forest in the park, it's inundated with the multiflora rose. It wipes out any other shrub and overgrows the others."
Was introduced to control erosion
The weed's early usages in the United States were practical when it was properly controlled.
The multiflora rose was first introduced to the U.S. in the 1880s from its native habitats in Korea, Japan, and China as a way to transport rose bushes from the Orient for planting and harvesting in United States.
In the 1930s, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service promoted the weed as a way to control land erosion and used its thorny base as a "living fence" to confine livestock.
In the 1950s, multiflora rose was planted in highway median strips to serve as crash barriers and to reduce automobile headlight glare.
But by the late 1960s, the weed's tenacious and unstoppable growth was eventually recognized as a problem on pastures and unplowed lands, where it disrupted cattle grazing.
According to the National Park Service website, the multiflora rose is named for the clusters of many white flowers that grow on the plant. The flowers develop into small, hard fruits called hips that remain on the plant throughout winter.
The great majority of plants develop from seeds remaining in the soil relatively close to plants from which they were produced.
Birds and mammals also consume the buds and can disperse them greater distances. The buds are also toxic to animals.
A thorny pest
Multiflora rose is a thorny, bushy shrub that can form impenetrable thickets and smother out other vegetation. It is a serious pest species throughout the eastern United States.
After Haviland spotted the multiflora rose in North Hudson Braddock Park, he conducted further investigation. He couldn't believe the large quantities of the weed that were strangling the forest area.
"I'd venture to say that it's covering about 90 percent of that area," Haviland said. "If it remains, there will be a loss of wildlife, birds, insects, not to mention the good shrubs and trees."
Haviland says that the weed also poses an obstacle to law enforcement officers, who cannot see what's going on inside the wooded area with regular patrol because the multiflora rose grows wild and high, sometimes reaching heights of 10 feet.
"They can't see through the weeds," Haviland said. "And in this area, there are a lot of things going on."
Save the park
Haviland said that in his jaunt through the wooded area he found condoms, clothes, a bicycle and groceries.
"It appears as if people had been living there," Haviland said. "I grew up in that park and I love it. It should be saved. It probably wasn't this way 10 years ago. It has to be removed. Not just for the safety, the beauty and the landscape of the park, but because the habitat there is invaluable. So obviously, the park can ill afford a problem of this magnitude."
Haviland said he is certain that New York City's Central Park doesn't have the same problem.
"There are none such invasive weeds in all of Central Park," Haviland said. "And there are a lot of intelligent people who know that there's no way they would be allowed."
Haviland said that he reached out to several organizations, including the township and the Meadowlands Commission, but his calls fell on deaf ears because the land is owned and operated by the Hudson County Parks Department.
Ken Jennings, the main horticulturist for the Hudson County Parks, believes the multiflora rose is not a major issue.
"This happens all over North America," Jennings said. "We have several forms of invasives in the parks. Poison ivy is an invasive as well and that causes more of a problem. If the plants have been there for more than 200 years, then how could they now cause problems? Yes, the plants have thorns. That could be dangerous. But it's not a major problem."
Tom McCann, the director of the Hudson County Parks, agreed.
"We don't think that it's that big of a problem," McCann said. "Poison ivy is definitely a bigger problem, and we try to address that problem every day. When you go into those areas, you don't want to disturb things, and the poison ivy is all over the place. I'm sure that all throughout New Jersey, any natural area has problems with invasives."
McCann and Jennings both said that they have spoken to Haviland and believe the ecologist was looking for a job to help Hudson County Parks.
Haviland agreed that he'd like to be hired to solve the problem, but he believes it is a big problem.
"It is common knowledge that it's in a lot of places," Haviland said. "I understand that. But just because they were unaware of it doesn't make it right. We have to find out how they can remove it. It's an area that should be used by kids, groups walking through trails, looking for butterflies, birds, and trees. It should be an area that is enjoyed."
So how would the problem be alleviated?
According to the National Park Service, pulling, grubbing, or removing individual plants from the soil only can be effective when all roots are removed or when plants that develop subsequently from severed roots are destroyed. But the problem in North Bergen is too widespread for that action.
A routine prescribed burn program will hinder the invasion and establishment of multiflora rose, but a blaze would never be started to eliminate weeds in a vast area like North Hudson Braddock Park.
Mechanical and chemical management are also options.
According to the National Parks Service website, repeated cutting or mowing at the rate of three to six times per growing season, for two to four years, has been shown to be effective in achieving a high mortality of multiflora rose. In natural communities, cutting individual plants is preferable to site mowing to minimize habitat disturbance.
However, this wooded forest has too much of the weed. If the county chooses to eliminate the problem, it would be a slow, tedious process.
Haviland is ready to lend a hand.
"Let's clean up the forest," Haviland said. "Let's get it done like the way we did in Pittsburgh. Let's make sure it's done the right way. It's not difficult to substantiate what I think, and I don't think you'll find anyone to disagree with me. This area should not be a seed source for exotic invasives, but that's what it is."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org