Rapid spread of buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) and the conversion of fire-resistant desert to flammable grassland rivals climate change and drought as our region's most pressing environmental issue. Fires that kill native plants and damage wildlife habitat create even more space for buffelgrass, which not only survives the fire but thrives on fire. In the absence of fire, buffelgrass outcompetes native plants for space, sunlight, moisture, and nutrients, threatening the long-term persistence of individual plant and animal species, as well as entire natural communities within southern Arizona. Buffelgrass also poses a threat to our quality of life and regional economy. Ecotourism is a cornerstone of the economy of southern Arizona, and the saguaro is the symbol of our community. Without continued effort to control this grass, the saguaros we see today in the Tucson Mountains and the Catalina foothills will likely be the last saguaros to stand in these landscapes.
Independent effort, by itself, cannot manage this problem. Our community has been fortunate in that municipal, county, state, and federal governments, private citizens, businesses, and non-governmental organizations came together in 2008, under the leadership of the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center (SABCC), to fight this threat. SABCC successfully jumpstarted the fight against buffelgrass, raising public awareness, mapping buffelgrass across the region, and coordinating control efforts across jurisdictions.
Southern Arizona is entering a new stage in the fight against buffelgrass, as SABCC hands over its responsibilities to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Pima Association of Governments and Sky Island Alliance, who are strongly positioned to wage the battle over the long-term. Learn more about buffelgrass and the ongoing fight to preserve our desert here.
“It’s matter of priority and public will. The public has to send a signal to its elected officials. If we don’t do something, eventually we’re all going to look out and say ‘What happened? How did this happen, and why didn’t we do something about it. Here we are in 2020 and we’ve lost our desert.”
— Bob Walkup, Tucson Mayor, 1999-2011