This is in response to David Safier’s editorial “A way to tackle desert invader” (The Explorer, Nov. 12).
A group of scientists and community leaders are organizing the non-profit Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center. Its mission is to provide a regional information and coordination center that emphasizes cross-jurisdictional and integrated management approaches for the control of buffelgrass and lessening of its impacts in Southern Arizona.
Mr. Safier asked for a coordinated effort to push back buffelgrass; this group is working to facilitate cooperation between city and county. Research is needed to determine the most cost-effective and long-lasting treatments. Efforts to control the spread of buffelgrass must start now.
As a retired high school biology teacher, I am aware of the potential of student help. Student volunteers from public and private schools, Pima Community College and the University of Arizona are working hard to clear buffelgrass from Tucson Mountain Park. More students would help, but there is a lack of funding for buses at $150 per trip to transport them.
he students interested in preserving the environment are the same students who are heavily involved in other extra-curricular activities so their time is already over-committed. When they join the Weedwackers, they learn about invasive grasses as part of their experience.
Mr. Safier underestimates the impact of the volunteer efforts in eradication. Currently five volunteer weedwacking groups, involving over 150 people a month, work regularly on the weekends in Saguaro National Park-East, Sabino Canyon, Atterbury Wash, Marana Santa Cruz flood plain, the Rillito River and Tucson Mountain Park. Since 2000, the Sonoran Desert Weedwackers working in Tucson Mountain Park have worked 10,000 hours, removing over 100 tons of invasive grasses.
I would like to see more Scout groups, church groups and neighborhood associations join in weedwacking efforts around the city. Other groups of active people could be more involved in buffelgrass removal, such as hikers, rock climbers, bikers or new residents to the Sonoran Desert. They already value the natural beauty of the region; they do not want to see the desert turn into an African savannah. Working for four hours per month is a good investment in saving the desert.
How effective is buffelgrass removal by volunteers? At Organ Pipe Cactus Monument, where volunteers removed buffelgrass for three years, eventually the seed base in the soil was exhausted and the area was cleared.
Everyone can see the eradication results on the roadsides along Kinney and Gates Pass roads west of the overlook. The Sonoran Desert Weedwackers have cleared these roadsides frequently and native grasses have replaced invasive grasses. Eradication can take continual work for several years, but eventually the native plants regain a foothold.
In the current economic situation, both public and private agencies are cutting their budgets. Asking them to pay high school students for eradication work is unrealistic. What we all have is time. Some folks have more time because they are newly or partly retired, unemployed or choose to spend their time preserving the desert. Weedwacking during the winter months is much more comfortable than during the summer, but at any time of the year, it is very rewarding work.
Allowing buffelgrass to spread means that native plants, such as the iconic saguaros, will be out-competed as the grass grabs available water. This is already happening on south-facing slopes on the Catalina Mountains.
To learn more about the buffelgrass threat, go to the website buffelgrass.org. View the locally-produced 10-minute video titled “Buffelgrass Invasion: Its threat to the Sonoran Desert and Our Will To Stop It.”
To learn more about volunteer groups, go to the Arizona Native Plant Society website at aznps.org/invasives/weedwackers.html
The Nature Conservancy’s list of endangered destinations includes the Sonoran Desert. Ask yourself the question, What am I doing to stop the spread of buffelgrass in my neighborhood or in my favorite spot in the desert?
Marilyn Hanson is the volunteer coordinator of the Sonoran Desert Weedwackers.