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Why is Buffelgrass a Threat?

In southern Arizona, the rapid spread of buffelgrass and conversion of fire-resistant desert to flammable grassland rivals climate change and drought as the region's most pressing environmental issue. Buffelgrass has introduced a new wildfire risk into an ecosystem that is not fire-adapted. It grows in dense stands, crowds out native plants, and negatively impacts wildlife and wildlife habitat. Buffelgrass is considered an exceptionally serious threat to the saguaro cactus, the iconic plant of the Sonoran Desert and is extremely detrimental to desert tortoise and mule deer habitat. Desert wildfires worsen the buffelgrass invasion because buffelgrass is able to quickly respond to fires, filling in the newly disturbed areas with seedlings.

Buffelgrass not only impacts native ecosystems, it also poses a serious threat to life, property, tourism and the regional economy. Ecotourism is a cornerstone of the economy of southern Arizona, and wildfire in the Sonoran Desert has the potential to diminish recreational activities and degrade viewscapes. This scenic native desert area attracts millions of tourists every year who contribute billions of dollars to the regional economy; tourism accounts for nearly 40,000 tourism-related jobs, about 12% of total wages in Pima County. Areas most at-risk to buffelgrass invasion are also highly prized real estate where multi-million dollar homes are nestled among the saguaros and palo verde trees of the mountain foothills.

In 2008, a cooperative experiment was conducted in the Avro Valley to determine the characteristics of fire in buffelgrass. This video shows how fast and how hot these fires burn.