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Saguaro National Park sprays for buffelgrass from air

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 6:19 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Regular efforts are being made to keep buffelgrass, an invasive species in southern Arizona that can fuel wildfires, manageable. Introduced in the 1990s, it quickly overgrew in the area.

For the next several days, the Saguaro National Park will be spraying an herbicide using a helicopter to diminish buffelgrass in about 600 acres in the Rincon Mountain area.

Leo Munoz, with Tri-Rotor LLC, helps to refill the herbicide in the helicopter before it takes flights. He’ll fill hundreds gallons of Kleen-UP Pro, the chemical they use to kill the buffelgrass.

“Usually this chemical is brownish, but with the dye, you can kind of see exactly where it lands because it’s such a bright color,” said Munoz.

The chemical is sprayed pink across the desert floor. It’s just one part of the park’s efforts to keep the invasive species at bay. Using ground pulls and volunteers, they usually control about 2,000 acres a year.

“By controlling it, we get it to a manageable level where we don’t have that fire threat and risk to the Sonoran desert,” said Jeff Conn with Resource Management Saguaro National Park.

They can only spray after rains when the grass is at least 50% green for the herbicide to be effective. Since 2014, only one year was too dry for this type of management to happen: 2020.

“We essentially had no rain through the summer, so that really impacted our program,” said Conn.

The heat killed off buffelgrass, but this year the park services said there are hundreds of times more seedlings than in 2020. With the new growth and the rain allowing vegetation to flourish, fire danger could be higher next year as the buffelgrass sprouts rapidly.

There is a chance that there could be some trail closures. Park employees will be stationed if they are, and the trails wouldn’t be closed for more than an hour.

The national parks service says while it depends on weather and flight patterns, these trails could be impacted: Tanque Verde Ridge, Manning Camp, Quilter and Arizona Trails.

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