OV group needs help, leader
J.D. Fitzgerald/Special to the Explorer, Dominic Radeka adds another buffelgrass-filled bag to the pile removed in June by volunteers with the Oro Valley Buffel Busters.

The Oro Valley Buffel Busters are at it again, and to parody the vintage Uncle Sam poster, "They Need You!"

The volunteer group is getting good turnouts in its efforts to eradicate buffelgrass, a non-native invasive species, from the Sonoran Desert, but is seeking a volunteer leader as well as more volunteer workers, according to Mary Davis, communications administrator for the town of Oro Valley.

The town staff and members of the public make up the Buffelgrass Management Action Committee, which oversees activities of the volunteers trying to control invasive grasses in the town.

The volunteer coordinator, Davis said, would participate in buffelgrass "pulls" once or twice a month, and also would be responsible for the participation, training and safety of all the group's volunteers.

"We started out with this committee in 2007 and got together regularly to go out and do pulls," Davis said. "Our first major pull was in March of 2008 during the Beat Back Buffelgrass pull in the county."

The Oro Valley group had 22 volunteers working during its June 13 pull at the east end of River Walk Drive off Avenida Vallejo, on the south side of Lambert Lane, just west of First Avenue, she said.

Carmen Ryan, senior office assistant in the town's public works department, currently coordinates the Buffel Busters program.

"We've had as many as 40 volunteers pulling buffel and fountain grass," Ryan pointed out. "For our typical pull, we'll usually have about 17 or 18 people out there working."

In addition to organizing the buffelgrass pulls, Ryan and others map and monitor buffelgrass and fountain grass locations and provide education and outreach materials to the public.

The Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center calls non-native buffelgrass an increasing challenge for both public land managers and private property owners. It noted that approximately 1,500 acres of public lands and rights of way had been treated during 2008, and that removal efforts have accelerated since 2005, the year Arizona approved listing buffelgrass as a regulated and restricted noxious weed. The Pima County board of supervisors voted to manage buffelgrass and other invasive species later that year.

Buffel Busters volunteer David Moyer of Oro Valley admitted that digging buffelgrass can be hard work. Buffelgrass grows in large clumps. When the grass dies out, it regrows from the clump, making the base even bigger.

"It's difficult to dig up and we take a team approach to it," Moyer said. "One person will grab the clump while the other one uses a digging bar to loosen the roots, which go down a few inches. The plant has a fairly large root mass and you have to get all of it out of the ground."

Moyer said he's seen buffelgrass clumps that are four feet across and three to four feet high.

"The root system for a plant that large can be immense," he noted.

And buffelgrass has introduced a new wildfire risk to the desert because when it burns, it does so at about twice the temperature of native grasses, Moyer said. Those hotter wildfires then can damage saguaro and other native cactus and trees.

Moyer said the Buffel Busters usually go out the second Saturday of each month for a "pull," and generally clear 100 bags per pull.

For more information on Oro Valley's Buffel Busters, go to www.orovalleyaz.gov or contact Carmen Ryan at 229-5070.

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