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Wondering about how the additional grass and weeds that sprang up from our recent monsoon storms might contribute to our fire danger?  And speaking of those weeds, what's the most environmentally friendly way to get rid of them?

Ask the Green Geek.

Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the experts in Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation. Send your questions to fyinewsletter@pima.gov and look for the column the second Friday of each month.

Hi Green Geek,

I'm a bit concerned by the grass and weeds growing from the rain lately and would like to know if Pima County has any information on fire prevention.
— Susan

Hi Susan,

We sure do have quite a lot of weeds growing and it is indeed wise to think about the impacts of our greener landscape in relation to the risk of fire. 

Let me first give you some excellent resources provided by my fellow colleagues here at Pima County. These documents and websites are must-reads for Arizona residents, as we live in a "high-hazard fire environment." 

It is often difficult for us to imagine ourselves in emergency situations, such as a wildfire outbreak, but it is important that we take advantage of this time we are given to prepare and learn how to adapt to the environmental risks we face. 

Here is some information about this risk in relation to climate change that I feel is important to know. 

 bighorn fire
The Bighorn Fire burned large sections of the Santa Catalina Mountains in 2020.
Climate change has the potential to extend the fire season across the West.
Due to the changes in our climate, we will start to see warmer, drier conditions that will intensify our drought conditions; increase the severity of heat waves; extend our fire seasons; increase the spread of pests and insects (that weaken the trees in our forests); and an increase of lightning-producing thunderstorms. 


The climate not only affects wildfires, but wildfires, too, have an impact on our climate. Though dependent on what is burned, wildfires can emit a significant amount of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter (known to us as soot). When this is released into the atmosphere, the deterioration of air quality can greatly impact human health, even thousands of miles away from the burn site. 

The increasing frequency of wildfires can also impact entire ecosystems. Though fires are necessary to maintain a healthy forest environment, too many fires can knock the ecosystem out of balance and do more harm than good. Our dear animal friends are deeply impacted as well. Take, for example, the devastation of the 2019/2020 Australia wildfires. Here is a summary from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) of its impacts.

I do admit it can be difficult to look into our future and the challenges we face through the lens of climate change. However, it is an important part of becoming resilient to the changes ahead, where we are able to recognize the symptoms of the planet’s ailments, diagnose its illnesses and work toward treatments to repair, restore and rebuild.
 

Hi Green Geek,

What is the best way for me to get rid of all these weeds? I know some commercial weed killers are problematic, but I don't know what other options I have. 


— Drew

Hi Drew,

There are organic methods of weed removal that I hope you’re willing to adapt into your landscaping practices. 

The best organic weed-control method is prevention. Maintaining healthy soils will inhibit the uprising of deficiencies in the soil, which encourage weed growth. 

It sounds like you have weeds you need to get rid of now, however, so here are some DIY home recipes you can try:
  • 1 gallon of vinegar (the stronger the vinegar the better) plus 1 cup of salt or 1 tablespoon of dish soap (Note: This vinegar solution is not very effective with hairy or waxy weeds. Only use salt in areas where you don’t plan to grow anything else, like sidewalks and driveways, as it sterilizes the soil.)
  • 4 ounces of Dawn plus 1 gallon of water can be sprayed to kill moss
  • Boiled water (Will kill weeds, but will also kill everything else around it, so be careful)
There is also the old-fashioned way of removing weeds by hand. Though laborious, it is extremely effective, especially when you remove the weeds before they flower. It can be helpful to use a weed removal tool to ensure that you get the weed down to the root. It is also easier to pull weeds when the ground is wet, after it rains. 

Now, I must be honest and say that these organic methods are not yet as effective as the harsh-chemical competitors on the shelf. The recipes above are non-selective, meaning they will kill all plant life, including grass. However, if we, the customers, make some noise about it, we can create a demand that could spark the production of more effective, safe and species-selective alternatives. 

There are some herbicides out there that say they are organic, but be wary of their ingredients. Just because it’s labeled organic does not mean they are 100% green. They still can have negative impacts on the environment. 

In general, the chemicals found in herbicides are hazardous to human and environmental health because of their main ingredient, glyphosate. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Caner (IARC) and the World Health Organization deemed glyphosate a "probable human carcinogen." 

These herbicides inhibit weed growth on the molecular level by interfering with plant processes (i.e. photosynthesis, synthesis of lipids and amino acids, which are needed for new cell production). Let me emphasize "on the molecular level." So it is no surprise that herbicides have negative impacts on:
  • Humans
  • Plant species’ richness and diversity
  • Soil environments, moreover the microorganisms that aid in soil decomposition and help plants absorb and transfer nutrients
  • Aquatic systems — vegetation decay leads to oxygen depletion, which, in turn, kills our fish
These herbicides make these impacts because they get transferred through:
  • Surface runoff
  • Soil leaching into the surface and groundwater
  • Volatization (i.e. the conversion of solid or liquid into gas), from which the chemicals are transferred into the atmosphere and return to the earth’s surface via precipitation
All in all, I encourage us all to stay away from herbicides as much as we can. If anyone is looking for a green business idea, you can always rent out goats! Check out this company if you need inspiration.
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