Volunteers are needed to help remove buffelgrass at locations around the Tucson area beginning this Saturday.

Doug Siegel is among thousands of volunteers on a mission to “Save Our Saguaros,” one clump of buffelgrass at a time.

“The Sonoran Desert is one of the most diverse deserts in the world, and if we ignore buffelgrass and let it take over, we will see what we have disappear and be transformed into something completely different. We don’t want an African savannah grassland instead of the Sonoran Desert,” said Siegel, a longtime volunteer with Sonoran Desert Weedwackers who is helping coordinate buffelgrass removal during Beat Back Buffelgrass Month 2018.

The annual event, which began as a single day of volunteerism to remove buffelgrass across the area 11 years ago, morphed a few years ago into a monthlong endeavor that will start Saturday and continue through March 4 throughout Southern Arizona.

“We decided that the longer time frame was the best way to try to raise awareness about the threat that buffelgrass poses to the Sonoran Desert environment, which is why we tagged it, ‘Save Our Saguaros.’ We wanted the public to be able to learn hands-on how to identify and remove buffelgrass and other invasive grasses so they understand how we can make a difference ... throughout the community,” said B.J. Cordova, membership and communications director for Tucson Clean & Beautiful.

Buffelgrass is an invasive weed that threatens native plants and poses an extreme fire hazard. It is difficult to eradicate and routinely must be cleared two to three times; additionally, complete removal of all roots is a must to prevent regrowth. Herbicides can also be used.

“Buffelgrass is one of the first things that greens up and one of the first things that dries out, which is part of why it is such a major fire hazard as well as an ecological threat. Each plant can have as may as 10,000 seeds per growing season, so if even a portion of those germinate, that is why it spreads so quickly,” Cordova said.

Cordova emphasized that since the grass burns extremely fast and hot with high flames, it is devastating to desert plants and animals as well as to homes and property.

“Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of buffelgrass on ‘A’ Mountain last July and we had a major fire that burned 5 acres. It damaged about 200 saguaros and 200 palo verde trees and all the native habitat, but the buffelgrass grew back with the summer rains,” Cordova said.

The community partners hope they can reduce buffelgrass and promote a more naturally functioning ecosystem, but Siegel emphasized that more help is always needed. He encourages religious, neighborhood and civic groups, businesses and students in middle school and older to get involved.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net