Mapping by helicopter of buffelgrass and fountain grass is being done this week for the Coronado National Forest and Saguaro National Park.

Buffelgrass is an aggressive, non-native grass that is crowding out native plants such as saguaro and palo verde, and providing fuel for wildfires.

If it continues to spread, buffelgrass “will be a serious threat to biological conservation efforts … and the impacts from buffelgrass fires will pose an increasing threat to public safety and property,” a release said.

In Arizona, buffelgrass is classified as a noxious weed.

Fountain grass is a close relative and invasive exotic weed.

Workers for the forest and the park have been battling buffelgrass by hand-pulling and by spraying with herbicides using backpack sprayers.

Some mapping has been done from the ground.

“However, buffelgrass has spread into some extremely steep, remote areas, and the only effective way to map it over large areas is from the air,” the release said.

Employees of the U.S. Forest Service Southwestern Regional Office, Forest Health Protection Program, are doing the mapping, using techniques similar to those used to map forest insect and disease outbreaks.

Buffelgrass and fountain grass patches will be mapped using a Geographic Information System carried in the helicopter.

Mapping is planned in the Rincon, Santa Catalina and Tucson mountains on lands managed by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.

Areas to be mapped extend from the federal property line at lower elevations to about the 5,000-foot level.

“Buffelgrass is limited by cold temperatures, and to date has not been found above that elevation,” the release said.

A helicopter is being piloted on low-level, low-speed flights to map infested areas.

Money for the project comes from the National Fire Plan.

“The objective of mapping buffelgrass is to identify infested areas in order to prioritize treatments,” the release said. “The ultimate goal is to better protect property and natural resources from buffelgrass fires, and from competition from this serious weed.”

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