With crews of interns actively rooting out buffelgrass in Saguaro National Park, park staff told citizens aerial spraying of herbicides is likely to begin mid-August, taking advantage of the monsoon season.
At a meeting requested by park restoration ecologist Dana Backer, with wildlife biologist Natasha Kline and ranger Jeff Martinelli, community activists Albert Lannon, Chris Banks and Tom Allen urged caution.
“Things like this have unintended consequences all too often,” Lannon said.
Allen urged that follow-up studies be conducted for five years to monitor the effects of herbicide spraying on wildlife, and Banks said digging out the invasive plant, deemed a “noxious weed” by the state of Arizona, is, in his experience, the only sure way to get rid of it.
The park is concerned that buffelgrass is crowding out native plants which wildlife depend on for food, and has become a fire hazard that threatens saguaros. Kline said that, while we may disagree, she is “glad there are advocates who love the desert.” Backer said the aerial spraying of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is “an operational experiment” that will be limited to a “relatively small area…about five percent” where there is heavy infestation in difficult terrain, such as around Panther Peak. They would try, she said, to be cautious and “minimize collateral damage.”
The park is also considering use of Imazapyr, an herbicide banned in the European Union since 2003. Backer said Imazapyr raises “a lot of red flags” and they are continuing research with no immediate plan to use the poison.