The Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center (SABCC) hosted a bus tour of Tucson International Airport property on Friday, Nov. 30, where buffelgrass will be removed using a $2.5 million federal grant awarded to Pima County and the airport. Pima County contributed $145,500 in matching funds, with TIA contributing a $706,000 match. The grant is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s pre-disaster mitigation program.

The Pima County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department will be coordinating efforts for Pima County. Pima County will use a portion of the grant to remove buffelgrass from the Mission Road Complex.

Buffelgrass poses an extreme fire hazard. A buffelgrass fire at the airport could shut down runways and cost thousands of dollars for local fire departments, the airport, and business partners located at the airport. The project covers approximately 600 acres at the airport.

The bus toured the perimeter of the airport along runways, Raytheon, and Bombardier properties; every seat was filled with representatives from local jurisdictions, fire departments, and the private sector. “We are happy to partner with the Tucson International Airport on this grant,” Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll said. “The airport is a critical economic asset to our region, and FEMA recognized that we must protect it from super-charged fire.”

Buffelgrass, an invasive species, is highly flammable, moves rapidly and burns hot enough to melt aluminum at 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Buffelgrass fires spread at a rate of three feet per second, enough to burn a football field in three minutes.

“We recognize the need to protect the critical infrastructure in and around the airport and other parts of the community, and protect institutions in the area that have a tremendous economic impact in the region,” said Mike Hein, Director of Pima County Emergency Management and Homeland Security. The funds will allow TIA and Pima to hit buffelgrass hard in 2013, killing plants and seeds, and then continue to control growth control through regular maintenance.

“Pima County has always been a great partner,” says Sarah Smallhouse, SABCC Board Chair. “In addition to removing and treating buffelgrass, we’ll be using this grant to build capacity in terms of training for landscape contractors and public outreach.

“It not just esoteric; removing buffelgrass is about public safety and economic development.”

In the Sunnyside neighborhood adjacent to the airport, residents look forward to continued good relations with the airport. “We have a lot of schools in the neighborhood, and we want to protect those kids and our houses from fires,” said Becky Quintera, the Neighborhood Association President. She looks forward to public outreach in Spanish and English, including flyers, television public service announcements, and neighborhood meetings.

For more information about buffelgrass, visit the SABCC website: Keep up with Pima County on Facebook at

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