Meg Quinn, of Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation, talked to me at the recent BioBlitz in the Saguaro National Park about the scourge that’s blighting much of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona — a tough alien grass that’s taken hold and threatening the native ecosystem.
Pima County is one of many government authorities and private activist groups driving awareness campaigns about buffelgrass and other exotic plants invading the desert. The African grass is said to have been introduced to the American Southwest as a new type of robust plant for cattle to forage. Now it has taken root, closing in open spaces between native plants, smothering them and presenting fire hazards. Even the iconic species of Saguaro National Park, the towering saguaro cactus, is threatened as it does not easily survive wildfires fueled by buffelgrass.
Saguaro National Park Superintendent Darla Sidles told me in this interview that buffelgrass is one of of the biggest threats to the park, and a lot of effort was needed just to keep it in check. Outside the park and other protected areas, the weed is spreading through the Sonoran Desert.
Buffelgrass is a “very aggressive grass, and it pushes out our native plants and it’s also a serious fire threat,” Quinn told me in the interview on this post. A lot of volunteer groups go out and pull the grass. “The only way to get rid of it really is to dig it up; you have to get the whole plant, including the root,” Quinn said. The plant can also be sprayed with an herbicide when it is still green.
“I think the grass is here to stay, unfortunately,” Quinn said. “But we have to manage it … and not let it take over, because the consequences could really be disastrous.”
Volunteers are encouraged to adopt areas of the desert to manage the grass by organizing groups to remove the grass and then monitoring the situation. But even if you are not moved to help remove alien plants from the environment, one thing that everyone can do is avoid buying and planting exotic species. “We have a lot of beautiful native grasses, so we try to encourage people to think about landscaping with natives,” Quinn said.
Find out more about buffelgrass:
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Buffelgrass Information Center (profile, photos, maps, more)
Informational video about buffelgrass and its threat to the Sonoran Desert ecosystem by MrBFilms:
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.