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March 29th, 2010
Grijalva Announces April 10 Field Hearing in Tucson on Invasive Species Threatening Southwestern Ecosystems

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, today announced his intention to hold a field hearing on the spread of a destructive invasive species known as buffelgrass, which has caused serious damage to Southwestern ecosystems. The hearing will take place Saturday, April 10, at 10:00 a.m MST at Tucson City Hall at 255 W. Alameda.

Introduced as cattle forage and for erosion control in the Sonoran Desert more than 50 years ago, buffelgrass has spread throughout the Southwest, choking out native species such as the iconic palo verde tree. Because the grass is highly flammable, its proliferation increases the risk of more intense and frequent wildfires and permanent alteration of the desert ecosystem. The saguaro cactus, which is slowly disappearing from infested areas, is just one of several species that has been unable to adapt to the increased fire threat. Local governments and volunteer groups have tried to halt the spread of buffelgrass, but their mitigation and control measures have only slowed its progress. Buffelgrass is still planted and irrigated in parts of Mexico for livestock consumption.

The hearing will focus on several issues, including:

•The destructive environmental impacts and fire risks of buffelgrass
•Current local and federal governmental efforts to reduce those impacts
•Obstacles to controlling and eradicating buffelgrass and other invasive species
•The budgetary needs of potential future containment programs

Witnesses will include federal officials, outside biological experts and local researchers.

“The damage to the desert Southwest, both in the past and around the corner, needs to be highlighted and addressed as soon as possible,” Grijalva said. “This is a classic example of a serious threat flying under the public radar.”

The grass has already infested large portions of Saguaro National Park outside Tucson, one of the best examples remaining in the country of the Sonoran desert ecosystem. Without more extensive action, Grijalva said, the damage to the park’s quality and integrity could be catastrophic.

“Letting grass grow where the wind blows may not sound like a big issue, but in this case it’s dangerously irresponsible,” Grijalva said. “Buffelgrass is an invasive, unwelcome tinderbox waiting to ignite. This hearing needs to happen now, while we have time to plan a new strategy, and I look forward to sharing ideas with all stakeholders about how we can prevent the further destruction of one of America’s most unique biological regions.”

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