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  • Buffelgrass and Other Grassy Desert Invaders

    Why care about buffelgrass?

    Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) is a non-native grass that provides biomass for high-temperature fires which threaten our homes, safety and biologically-diverse Sonoran Desert. This aggressive grass species was introduced from the African savannahs and grows in dense stands that can crowd out native plants and creates a new, more frequent fire regime in the desert.  Buffelgrass threatens to convert our ecologically rich Sonoran Desert into an exotic grassland environment.

    Buffelgrass spreads readily by seed and establishes itself in disturbed areas. Once established, this invasive grass can then move into native desert habitats on hillsides and along drainages. Buffelgrass stands can burn at over 1,400 degrees and are almost three times hotter than fires generated by flammable native vegetation. These high-temperature fires are highly detrimental to cacti and native trees and can eliminate them from the landscape. Fires do not significantly impact the buffelgrass stands which can come back more vigorously than before the fire.

    Over the past five years, the buffelgrass invasion in the Southwest has been the subject of considerable outreach, extensive media coverage and nearly-unanimous consensus over the need to aggressively control this invader grass. Despite the best efforts of a growing group of volunteers and a growing public investment, control activities have not kept pace with buffelgrass spread. Because this spread is almost exponential – populations of this grass and the costs of controlling it may be doubling every year – time is of the essence and requires working collaboratively and decisively to implement effective control programs.

    The Pima County Department of Environmental Quality Buffelgrass Ordinance provides a legal means to control buffelgrass on private land in unincorporated Pima County.

    Sonoran Desert Weedwackers Volunteer Opportunities

    The Sonoran Desert Weedwackers are a volunteer group dedicated to removing infestations of buffelgrass,
    fountain grass and other invasive plants found in the Tucson Mountains and other natural areas in Pima County.
    Invasive species threaten native plant and wildlife populations in the Sonoran Desert. Since 2000 the Sonoran
    Desert Weedwackers have successfully eliminated major infestations of invasive grasses in washes and on ridge
    tops in Pima County’s Tucson Mountain Park.

    Weedwacking is hard work but the benefits are well worth the effort! Volunteers should be in good physical
    shape and able to hike on uneven terrain. Sonoran Desert Weedwackers typically meet at a central location
    and take a short van ride to the weedwacking site. Seasoned volunteers and Pima County staff provide grass
    classes that cover plant identification and safe removal techniques. After manually removing infestations,
    plants are bagged, hauled off site and taken to the landfill.

    Join the Sonoran Desert Weedwackers and do your part in restoring the health of the desert in Tucson
    Mountain Park. You can help to protect the Sonoran Desert by joining the Sonoran Desert Weedwackers. Contact Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation - Environmental Education Office (520) 615-7855 or eeducation@pima.gov 

    Please see the current Public Programs Calendar for the current schedule of Sonoran Desert Weedwacker events.

    You will find more information on buffelgrass and fountain grass in the Buffelgrass Wanted Dead and
    Gone brochure or online at www.buffelgrass.org.

    Frequently Asked Questions about the PDEQ Buffelgrass Ordinance

    Are there any laws in place to control buffelgrass on private land in unincorporated Pima County?

    Yes. In support of regional efforts to eradicate and manage buffelgrass, the Pima County Board of Supervisors adopted changes to the Pima County Code, Title 7, Chapter 33 that identifies buffelgrass as a weed subject to regulation. The Pima County Code allows the County the authority to issue property owners in unincorporated Pima County an Opportunity to Correct, seek a court injunction, or abate the property when buffelgrass poses a significant public safety threat such as fire.

    How will the enforcement process work?

    As per Title 7.33.025, when a hazard exists in unincorporated Pima County, the PDEQ will issue a Notice of Opportunity to Correct (NOC) with a requirement for the property owner to develop and submit an Abatement Plan.  An (NOC) will be sent to the property owner which requires:
    • Within 30 days, property owner must send written notification to the County that the NOC was received;
    • Property owner must develop and submit to the County a written Abatement Plan within 60 days of receipt of NOC. The Abatement Plan shall include:
      1. Map identifying the property and extent of weed infestation;
      2. Description and schedule of management and eradication techniques to be used;
      3. Estimated cost to implement Abatement Plan; and
      4. Basis used for the cost estimate.
    The County shall approve or deny the Abatement Plan. If denied, the reasons will be cited in writing. Denial by the County may result in the issuance of a Notice of Abatement. Also, failure to provide adequate information or to respond to the NOC may result in a Notice of Abatement.

    If a property owner does not respond to the Notice of Opportunity to Correct or the submitted abatement plan is denied, will the county abate the buffelgrass on that property?

    As per Title 7.33.030, the County may issue a Notice of Abatement (NOA) which will contain:
    • A compliance date (not less than 30 days from NOA) by which the property owner must remove the buffelgrass or else the County will abate it;
    • Estimated cost for Pima County to do the work; and
    • A notification that if Pima County does the work, a lien can be placed on the property to recover the costs

    The Notice of Abatement is appealable to the Pima County Board of Supervisors within 10 business days. The Board decision is final.

    Who can I call to report buffelgrass?

    You can report buffelgrass on our website from the Buffelgrass Complaint Form or call the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality at (520) 724-7400, if the property is in unincorporated Pima County.

    How should I dispose of buffelgrass?

    Please put buffelgrass in plastic garbage bags prior to disposal to reduce the spread of seeds. In the county, bagged buffelgrass can be disposed of at Sahuarita, and Ajo landfills, as well as Catalina and Ryan Field transfer stations. Standard disposal rates will apply.

    For additional information on buffelgrass go to the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center.

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    Department of Environmental Quality

    33 N. Stone Ave., Suite 700
    Tucson, AZ 85701

    Phone: (520) 724-7400
    Fax: (520) 838-7432


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