Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

Volunteers Successfully Clear Large Patch of Buffelgrass

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

In March 2012, a nearly four year quest to remove a massive infestation from the heart of the park came to an end with the clearing of buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link, synonym Cenchrus ciliaris L.) in the Freeman area, thanks to community volunteers.

The Freeman patch, an 11-acre patch of buffelgrass located near the historic Freeman Homestead, has been the target of this volunteer labor force since July 2008. Armed with rock hammers, digging bars and pick mattocks, the Weedwackers have braved hidden cacti, thorny shrubs, coiled rattlesnakes, and the ever looming desert heat month after month.

A hillside covered with shrubs, saguaros, and buffelgrass

The Freeman Homestead Patch in 2007, overrun with buffelgrass. NPS photo

A hillside with shrubs and saguaros.

In March 2012, the area was finally clear of buffelgrass. NPS photo

The Saguaro National Park Weedwackers, a volunteer group created in 2007, convene on a monthly basis with the sole intent of pulling buffelgrass. Office workers from CitiGroup and Tucson Electric Power toiled at the site. Numerous school groups such as Tucson Country Day School, Amerischools College Preparatory Academy, and the Catalina Foothills Environmental Action Group contributed strong backs and enthusiasm. Youth organizations including the Eagle Scouts of America and the Saguaro National Park Cactus Rangers also joined in on this community effort. In the end, it took 464 people 2,843 person-hours to manually remove this solid 11-acre patch of buffelgrass.

The desert landscape and the plants and animals that depend upon it for their existence are becoming increasingly threatened by buffelgrass, an invasive grass from Africa. Buffelgrass was introduced beginning in the 1930’s, primarily for livestock forage and erosion control. In recent years, buffelgrass has spread exponentially across southern Arizona. It has the potential to dominate and convert the natural landscape of the park and surrounding areas, increasing competition with native species as well as wildfire risk.

With the support of dedicated volunteers, Saguaro National Park Park is continuing to preserve and protect its namesake and its unique habitat.

Additional information on buffelgrass can be found at the Saguaro National Park’s website. Visit the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center (SABCC) for a calendar of local volunteer Weedwacker events.

Contact: John Thornburg

Email: john_w_thornburg@nps.gov

Phone: (520) 733-5130