Arizona is using old and new techniques to eliminate one of its oldest and largest environmental threats: buffelgrass. Without the resources necessary to get rid of it completely, the dangerous grass will continue to spread rapidly throughout the state.
For decades, the plant has been destroying native species, while presenting a major fire hazard. As the grass continues to grow at an exponential rate, it needs to be controlled before it is too late, said Lindy Bringham, director of the nonprofit organization, Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center.
“It’s critical at this point that we really get a handle on it now, “ she said. “If we can get people to work on it now they can get it to a manageable state.”
According to Bringham, the state is doing what it can to control the grass, but due to limited funding, cannot eliminate it without help.
Arizona has spent $174 million in bond funds, since 2010, to purchase desert land. One of the reasons the state bought the land was to preserve the ecosystem by removing the intruding buffelgrass.
Although it is difficult to determine exactly how many acres these weeds infect, officials are hopeful that new technology will stop further growth, even with a tight budget. Doug Siegel, a natural resource specialist for Pima County, has been working with the U.S. Forest Service to develop easier and cheaper ways to eliminate the grass.
“We’re trying to see what we can do with our current budgets,” he said.
Siegel has been working on a hands-free way to get rid of these invasive plants. A helicopter would be used to drop the devices in “strategic spots” around the state. The remote control-activated machine would spray about ten acres of land with herbicide. This could help eliminate buffelgrass in areas that would normally be difficult to reach.
According to Siegel, federal agencies believe this kind of device could help more than just Arizona.
“They recognizes the benefit of having a device like this because it can be used nationwide,” he said.
Buffelgrass was brought to the United States in the 1930s to feed cattle. The grass expanded throughout the Arizona by 1980. So far, 73 tons of buffelgrass have been removed from Arizona.
According to Travis Bean, a weed specialist at the University of Arizona, it doesn’t take long for buffelgrass to kill off plants that are native to Arizona.
“Within five to ten years has already excluded smaller shrubs, grasses and annual plants,” he said. “In ten to 15 years it’s probably killed off midsize to larger shrubs. After 20 years, you pretty much only have adult saguaros left.”
Environmentalists have been trying to raise awareness of the threat of buffelgrass. Without public support, Siegel said the state’s ecosystem could change forever.
“If you love the Sonoran desert and the biodiversity that’s here, are you willing to lose that because a community let something kind of slip by them without paying attention.”