This is an excerpt taken from the Arizona Daily Star. To read more please follow the link listed at the bottom of the page.
Public lands endangered
The spread of buffelgrass has alarmed people who work in Arizona’s national parks and monuments because it grows thick, burns hot and crowds out native plants. Some say the Sonoran Desert could be transformed into a habitat more like an African grassland. Others point out that species unique to this region, like the desert tortoise, will suffer.
Buffelgrass was introduced to southern Arizona in the late 1930s for erosion control and livestock forage. Public-land managers didn’t see any problems with it, partly because they weren’t looking for any. So it spread. By the 1980s, buffelgrass began to show up in Organ Pipe Cactus and Saguaro national monuments.
In the past decade, however, researchers have learned more about the damage buffelgrass can cause.
More grass means more fuel, from two times to 4,000 times more. Some fear that buffelgrass fires will threaten such plants as saguaro, barrel and cholla cactus and paloverde trees. These native plants, which have not evolved with fire, struggle in the aftermath of such blazes.
“It has the capability of basically sterilizing the desert soil,” said Mark Lambert of Ironwood Forest National Monument. By this, he means the soil will no longer support native plants. Buffelgrass, however, can still grow in such an environment.
By the time researchers learned of these dangers, they realized that buffelgrass was already growing thick in southern Arizona.
Various agencies started programs to combat the invasive plant and have since combined their efforts. In April, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., held a hearing on buffelgrass. Richard Brusca of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson said in written testimony that the plant could transform the native landscape into a land without saguaro cactus.
“We have already driven dozens of Sonoran Desert plants and animals to extinction,” Brusca wrote, “and hundreds more are now on the verge. The invasion of African buffelgrass is pushing us to a tipping point, where the entire Sonoran Desert ecosystem could collapse.”
Unless action is taken immediately, Brusca wrote, the desert museum will be a museum of what used to be.