/ Modified jan 22, 2018 5:12 p.m.

Buffelgrass, Threat to Desert Habitat, Cultivated South of the Border

Ranchers in Mexico see it as a cheap source of cattle feed.

Buffelgrass volunteers Volunteers raking and pulling up bufflegrass. (PHOTO: Tucson Clean and Beautiful)

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Hundreds of volunteers are set to fan out in the Sonoran Desert over the next 30 days to combat what scientists call the biggest threat to the desert habitat: buffelgrass.

The project is called "Beat Back Buffelgrass" and it is being sponsored by Tucson Clean and Beautiful.

Starting Jan. 27, volunteers are organizing and spreading out all over the U.S. side of the Sonoran Desert to pull up the dry grass before springtime.

Sign Beat Back Buffle Grass (PHOTO: Tucson Clean and Beautiful)

"Buffelgrass poses a threat to our unique Southern Desert Ecology but it is also a major fire threat," said B.J. Cordova, of Tucson Clean and Beautiful.

Cordova said buffelgrass chokes native plants. It was brought here from Africa in the 1930's as for cattle feed and erosion control.    "Unfortunately, it's not good at either one of those things because most of the year it's dry and straw-y looking, which the cattle won't eat."

On the Mexican side of the international border, ranchers are cultivating, not killing, it. Ranchers there see the fast-growing plant as a cheap way to feed their cattle.

"Researchers at the University of Sonora have indicated that it poses challenges both to the ecology and, really, it's not even a fully healthy rangeland grass there anyway," Cordova said.

Just one plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds per year, and those seeds can travel hundreds of miles. Environmentalists fear that, without Mexico's help, local efforts to beat back the plant will be like fighting a wildfire with a pitcher of water.

Listen to entire interview and get more information about buffelgrass from B.J. Cordova of Tucson Clean and Beautiful.

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