NPS rooting out buffelgrass as firefighter shares warning

Updated: Apr. 6, 2017 at 5:09 PM MST
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Volunteers pulling buffelgrass at a previous event. (Source: National Park Service)
Volunteers pulling buffelgrass at a previous event. (Source: National Park Service)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Saguaro National Parks Service is working to avoid large brush fires by rooting out the threat, one pesky plant at a time.

NPS Restoration Ecologist Perry Grissom is rounding up volunteers to help pull buffelgrass. The problem with the non-native plant has grown exponentially, he said.

"It's a slow change initially, but then it just explodes before you realize it," Grissom explained.

It's why at least once a month from September to May, including Saturday morning, April 8, he's asking volunteers to show up and help. Those interested should meet at the Rincon Mountain Visitor Center (3693 S. Old Spanish Trail, Tucson, AZ 85730) at 7 a.m.

Pamphlets from the National Park Service state that buffelgrass is a fire-prone grass introduced from the African savannah that has gained a foothold in central and southern Arizona. It spreads aggressively by "seed that forms densely and crowds out native plants."

"It invades undisturbed desert. It fills in the gaps between the native plants and can carry fire. Historically, the desert didn't really see much fire," Grissom said.

The National Park Service said buffelgrass can "fuel frequent and devastating fires in what has generally been a fireproof desert."

But the buffelgrass battle is not just being waged in the Arizona wildlands and forests.

"It is expanding," said Barrett Baker, with the Tucson Fire Department.

The shrubby, dry grass is something Baker's department is seeing more and more. Buffelgrass is notoriously flammable and burns incredibly hot because of its thickness.

"You can see that in washes. You can see that in alley ways. So it's very important that homeowners themselves do talk about defensible space, especially during this time of the season where it's so windy," Baker said.

Grissom noted that a lot of brush fires in the city limits are mostly burning buffelgrass.

"It's in alleys and vacant lots and along streets. So it definitely burns hot enough to ignite wooden fences and a garage or something. So it could threaten
homes in town, wherever it is," he said.

It's why Grissom and other volunteers are working to root out that threat one pesky plant at a time.

"It's a long-term battle but we are definitely winning where we are actually able to get in there."

For more information on Saturday's buffelgrass pull click HERE.

For more information about buffelgrass or other buffelgrass pull events around Tucson, please visit

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