Next week, crews will resume aerial spraying in Saguaro National Park in an effort to control buffelgrass.
This is the fourth year in a row that aerial spraying is needed to combat buffelgrass in areas of the park not accessible to ground crews. Spraying will begin Thursday, August 17, and is done via helicopters to treat dense patches of the invasive plant during monsoon season. According to a park release, the aerial spraying will prompt temporary closures of the south side of Panther Peak in the Tucson Mountain District (west) and the Tanque Verde Trail in the Rincon Mountain District (east). They will be closed for 2 to 3 days in each area.
A native to Africa and the Middle East, Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare or Cenchrus ciliaris) is aggressively invading the Sonoran desert and spreading rapidly. Buffelgrass is dangerous to Saguaro National Park as it displaces native vegetation and forms dense, single-species strands that have the ability to carry fire into the defenseless Sonoran Desert vegetation. Experts predict that buffelgrass may disrupt or displace many of the native plant and animal species that all the Sonoran desert home.
Factors such as weather conditions, wind speed and direction are taken into consideration before spraying to ensure the herbicide only hits its intended target-buffelgrass. This treatment is within guidelines set by the National Park Service in 2014 as part of a Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment. This approved aerial application of herbicide to control non-native plants in places that are too remote or unsafe for control by ground crews.
In Saguaro National Park, ground crews and volunteers will continue their efforts to minimize invasive species with manual pulling and herbicide from backpack sprayers. A collaborative, expansive effort is required to combat the exponential spread of buffelgrass and minmie this serious fire threat to beloved saguaros, as well as homes and property. When the park was last mapped for buffelgrass infestation in 2012, approximately 2,000 acres of parkland were affected by the invasive grass. Follow up monitoring, including last years’ aerial treatment of approximately 400 acres, indicates a significant decrease in buffelgrass in treated areas due to aggressive action.
With stunning views of the desert landscape nestled around the city of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is a popular destination for residents and visitors alike. Learn more about the park and updates on closures due to aerial spraying on the official website.