Dennis Dickerson, environmental planning coordinator for the Pima Association of Governments, is issuing a challenge: How much invasive grass can we get rid of in one day? Buffelgrass Eradication Day is this Saturday, March 1. It may not be too late for you to sign up for the chance to yank some buffelgrass out of the ground; visit buffelgrass.org to learn how you can volunteer.

Why is buffelgrass a problem?

It's an invasive plant species that has gotten out of hand because of its growth. It's now spreading exponentially throughout the Tucson basin. As it grows, several problems occur. It sucks up the water that's available for other plants around it, and by the nature of the way it grows, it tends to cut off the ability of other native plants to grow where they otherwise would. So you get these large fields of buffelgrass, and once it gets established, it becomes difficult for native species to grow.

And it also presents a fire danger.

We haven't had any major buffelgrass fires yet in our area, but the probability is growing as these stands get established. Once you do have a buffelgrass fire, it's very likely that, since it burns so hot, it's going to basically fry any of the native plants, particularly the cactus. Buffelgrass is very aggressive. Fire is part of its natural ecological cycle, and once it clears an area through fire, it's going to be even easier for that buffelgrass to come back even stronger, and it will become a monoculture over a period of time.

Because the other plants don't grow back after a fire, and the buffelgrass does.

That's right.

You have a special Buffelgrass Eradication Day coming up on Saturday, March 1. Tell me a little bit about what's going to happen there.

We've tried to raise the level of awareness in the community about this problem and to motivate volunteers to get engaged. There have been a small number of groups working on buffelgrass, particularly in Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park, for some time, and they've done great work. It's just that the scope of the problem is so huge that we're going to need a substantially greater level of effort--and also an awareness among the community that buffelgrass is a problem. Buffelgrass Eradication Day is really a way of raising that awareness and generating additional volunteer support. I think we've been very successful so far in terms of motivating groups to participate in this effort, and I'm pretty encouraged.

What's specifically going to happen on Buffelgrass Eradication Day?

There are a number of different locations where either a new activity is going to be occurring, or an existing group will be doing what it normally does in terms of buffelgrass eradication, but with additional volunteers or in a different area.

So folks will be going out and yanking buffelgrass out of the ground?

That will be the focus of the effort. At these locations, people will actually be extracting the plants.

How did we get into this mess with buffelgrass to begin with?

It goes back to the 1920s and 1930s, when this plant was brought over from Africa. It has qualities that are useful in terms of soil erosion and, to a limited extent, as cattle feed. So people used it at that time, and since then, it's really slowly taken off in this area. Down in Sonora, Mexico, I understand that area has been dramatically impacted by large amounts of buffelgrass. It's a problem not only here, but also in Australia. It's definitely a challenging problem. These invasive plants and animals that go to locations where they're not native really do play havoc with the local ecology.

You really have to pull it up clump by clump.

Pulling it out is one way to deal with it. You can also spray it with herbicide, but that spraying has to be done in a very limited window of time while the plant is green during the monsoon season. It grows very quickly and goes to seed very quickly, and once things dry out with the heat, it dries up very quickly and goes dormant, and then comes back the next year.

How widespread is this in Southern Arizona?

It's getting very significant. There are very large swaths of this now in the Catalina Mountains. Many vacant properties have buffelgrass on them, particularly south of the downtown area, where you have lots of vacant lots that have been either prepared for business development or modified in some way. There are large areas that have been impacted. The further south you go, there's quite a bit of infestation. It's all along roadsides--(roads are) one of the main routes that it has for moving through the area. The seeds are helped along, plus the shoulders of roads are disturbed areas with very little vegetation. That's the ideal sort of locale for it to be established.

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