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Central Arizona Invasive Plant Removal

VOAz has contributed to invasives or noxious plant control efforts at several locations in Arizona since 2002. This project brings together our work on this problem in greater Phoenix area locations.

Invasive plants have been a major concern in the west for many years. The term applies to plants that are not native to an area and have the capacity to thrive in their adopted environment. Non-native plants that are brought to an area by humans, animals, or perhaps the wind are not always harmful. They are defined as harmful when they tend to substantially displace native plants if left uncontrolled and bring about deleterious habitat transformations. (What is meant be "deleterious," and thus noxious, can be contentious. There is a line or argument that human activities and, perhaps, climate change have permanently changed environments and new species that have adapted well to these changes should not be considered the enemy.)

For example, a number of invasive plants found in Arizona deserts are easily ignited when dry. Natural fires are common in most wildlands, and we have heard a great deal about the ecological benefits of fire. However, fires are not a part of the life cycle in the Sonoran desert. When non-native grasses and other plants go dormant they provide much more fuel than the native plants. This produces hot and destructive fires that native vegetation may not survive, but which reinvigorate the non-natives. Because non-native plants evolved in different environments, their adopted environment may not have the checks (animals, insects, or competing plants) that would normally limit their distribution. By the same token, they usually may not support native wildlife and can even threaten their survival by displacing the plant life upon which native species directly or indirectly depend.

Arizona is considered less adversely effected by invasive plants than many other western states, in part, because it is so dry and has been relatively poor for livestock grazing since it was grievously over grazed 100 years ago. Specialist have recognized that we need a strategic approach to invasive control. For some species, we can do little unless new technologies, such as bio-controls, emerge. Removing Saltcedar (Tamarisk) from dammed rivers and streams is usually an endless task because dams disrupt the normal flow patterns in ways that favor Saltcedar over native plants such as Cottonwood and willow. Some plants that have only begun to gain a foothold can be brought under control.

State regulations, public education, and regional weed councils are bringing this issue to the fore and resulting in some positive changes that should have long term benefits. VOAz's goals is to find "high value" targets for eradication by our volunteer work force.

VOAz was worked removed infestations of the invasive plants listed below. The work is in some cases part of another VOAz project, for which we have included a link. The Bull Thistle work has not been in central Arizona, but near the Mogollon Rim east of Payson. The rest has been in central AZ.
Bull Thistle & Russian Thistle - Habitat Restoration on Canyon Creek
Fountain Grass
Malta Starthistle
Saltcedar (Tamarisk) - Habitat Restoration within Cave Creek Watershed
A wide variety of noxious plants have been the target on the VOAz's Conservation Work at Grand Canyon National Park project.

Is it worth the effort?
Certain non-native species that have been let lose in the environment are, unarguably, very harmful. It does not flow automatically that you can always do much about it. VOAz does its best to consult with plant management professionals and select projects and strategies that have the highest chance of success. It is very clear that you cannot start these projects without a commitment to repeat work. Usually you cannot remove an entire colony during one event. Even if you can, there are seeds from these plants all over the place and they have very long survival rates—sometimes a decade or more. Mechanical removal disrupts the soil and can actually stimulate new plant emergence, but not always. Multi-growing season efforts are needed. At some point, monitoring and occasion return visits may be all that is needed. In the best circumstances, this level of maintenance is possible relying only through judicious application of the appropriate herbicides.

Speaking of herbicides. It also seems clear, that herbicides are critical to successful management of many noxious weeds. Using herbicides is strenuously opposed by some. While there is probably always some downside to using any herbicide—especially if improperly used, you have to evaluate the alternative: allowing an noxious weed to take over. I most cases, volunteers are not allowed to use herbicides for some obvious reasons, but this policy has been modified in Pima County.

Finally, successful noxious weed control involves a variety of activities besides volunteer based eradication projects. Public education, public rule changes (Buffelgrass was only recently declared persona non grata; Pima County can now compel Buffelgrass removal prom private property), research and dissemination on best practices, and removal by road maintenance crews but distribution of most such plants is along roadways. Individually, we need to think about where we walk, ride, and drive and do our best to avoid transplanting non-native seeds on our person and our vehicles.

More about Buffelgrass
Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare), also known as Buffel grass, is variously reported to have been introduced into Arizona as cattle feed and to control erosion. It could never have been of much value as cattle feed in the drier deserts, but it thrives in these areas nonetheless. Buffelgrass is a native savanna bunch grass of Africa. These places are largely mono-cultures interspersed with spindly Acacia trees. The Buffelgrass life cycle in its native lands includes great fires that sweep across the plains and remove the old growth to make room for new growth.

But, fire is one of its primary threats to Arizona's deserts, which are not adapted to intense fires. The capacity to support intense fire is a characteristic of many invasive grass plants. Fires do occur in the desert from time to time. Scrawny native grasses burn quickly and the fire do not get hot enough to kindle desert brush or damage cactus. Buffelgrass, Fountain grass, red Bromegrass are dense and, thus, burn hot. Fire involving such plants does considerable damage to native plants, not to mention the risks for humans and human habitat they can pose.

In addition to fire, unchecked Buffelgrass grows into dense stands and chokes out native grasses and plants. In short, it messes with the desert ecology in serious ways. Native bugs, birds, and other animals usually have no use for it as food or habitat. When it displaces native habitat, what are those critters to do? Take a specific example--the endangered lesser long nosed bat, which migrates from Mexico to this region in April to raise their young over the summer. They eat columnar cacti nectar almost exclusively, and then after the cacti stop blooming they eat agave nectar. If either of these plants disappears from the landscape, this and ten other nectar feeding bats may simply cease to exist.

What could the loss of eleven species of bat do? In addition to helping to control insect populations, their dietary habits make them important pollinators. Buffelgrass is wind pollinated; it doesn't offer a nectar reward. So the bees and bugs that would normally be fed by the creosote, mesquite and palo verde--all herbaceous flowering plants-will no longer have a place to eat.

More about Malta Starthistle
Malta Starthistle is an invasive annual plant from the Mediterranean area that is gaining a foothold in the deserts of Arizona. It affects our desert ecosystems by displacing productive wildlife habitat, increasing erosion, and creating an increased frequency of wildfires. It takes over recreation areas, rendering them unsuitable for camping, and is toxic to some animals. To read more about the Malta Starthistle, eradication methods, and view a photo of the rosette and mature plant, click Malta Starthistle

Patti Fenner from Tonto NF asked VOAz to help with a containment effort at Horseshoe Lake north east of Phoenix. There is a major infestation that can only be removed though mechanical means or controlled burns. Meanwhile, hand removal of outlying patches is needed to stop spread beyond this core area. (See the areas marked on a map of the primary infestation with the Horseshoe Recreation Area of Tonto National Forest.)  )

Upcoming Events
There are no upcoming events.

Completed Work
Number of Events: 10
Total Volunteer Hours: 2019
Total Participants: 268
Project Outputs
Acre(s) cleared of noxious weeds: 45.3
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed: 9.25
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed (duplicate measure): 4.1
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed (alternate metric): 2
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed ((2580 pounds!)): 1.29

Completed Event Reports

January 16, 2010  Buffelgrass Removal
VOAz volunteers removed by hand and with small hand tools nearly two tons of the invasive plant buffelgrass that threatens to serious degrade the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert at Gonzales Pass.
Total Volunteer Hours: 126    Total Participants: 17
Event Outputs
Acre(s) cleared of noxious weeds: 8
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed ((2580 pounds!)): 1.29

April 10, 2009  Buffelgrass Removal

VOAz, Ritz Carlton hotel Staff and Tonto National Forest successfully cleared 8,800 square feet (500 lbs.) of buffelgrass if a little over two hours of work. Prior to venturing to Gonzales Pass Thom Hulen, of VOAz, met with Ritz Carlton staff over breakfast to discuss Sonoran Desert ecology and how buffelgrass infestations are threatening the long term viability of native Sonoran desert plants.

Thanks to our event partner Patti Fenner, Noxious Weed Specialist of Tonto National Forest

Total Volunteer Hours: 98    Total Participants: 18
Event Outputs
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed: 0.25

January 24 - 25, 2009  Buffelgrass Removal

VOAz volunteers gave 300-hours of service to removing buffelgrass from the Gonzales Pass area in the Tonto National Forest. Approximately 8-acres (2-tons) of buffelgrass was pulled, bagged and transported off the site. In some cases bagged buffelgrass was transported about 1/8 of a mile by forming a chain of volunteers that passed the bags downhill in a series of several stages.

Saturday afternoon volunteers were treated to an informative tour of the historic Pinal City town site by Tonto National Forest Archaeologist Scott Wood. Volunteers who chose to camp out Saturday evening participated in a pot-luck wirh a pasta entree prepared by event chef Mike Snodgrass. There was so much food we served a hiking group coming in off Picket Post Mountain. Mike served a delicious dutch oven breakfast The following morning.

Thanks to our event partner Patti Fenner, Noxious Weed Specialist of Tonto National Forest

Total Volunteer Hours: 310    Total Participants: 34
Event Outputs
Acre(s) cleared of noxious weeds: 8
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed (duplicate measure): 2

December 6, 2008  Buffelgrass Removal
VOAZ volunteers plus two Phoenix Parks & Recreation Rangers removed 170 plus bags of buffelgrass near Shaw Butte. The grass was extracted mostly with picks and in very rocky soil. This should be the last event at this site.

Participating Volunteers:**Aprile, *Jennifer, Michael (Technical Advisor), *Taelor, **Christopher, **Jennifer, Dennis, Michael (Crew Leader - tool manager), Melissa (Food Service), *Marrisa, Doug, Johnnie (Event Manager), Inge (Asst. EM), *Rick , Daniel (Crew Leader), Chuck , *Eric , *Shirley, Paul, **Jingwei, *Tom , *Windy , **Meghan, *Mary, Debra , Nell, Emerson, Joseph (Crew Leader) * Indicates first event; ** indicates 1st event and part of Marrisa's group; Taelor came with her parents.

Total Volunteer Hours: 168

Thanks to our event partners from the Phoenix Mountain Preserve Staff:Jerry Waehner - Park Manager and Park Rangers Donnie & Paul.

Total Volunteer Hours: 242    Total Participants: 28
February 23, 2008  Fountain grass removal

VOAz volunteers were joined by three forest service staff on a beautiful, crisp Arizona February morning to rid a seven mile stretch of Bartlett Lake Road of 3,840 pounds of Fountain. The forest service measured six acres of infestation within the 27 acres of road side covered.

Volunteers:Donna Alexander (Crew Leader/Food Service), Kristi Alexander, Eric Anderson (Crew Leader), Kirk Anderson, Michael Baker, *Jennifer Blackman, Jill Bluhm, Bruce Boyce, Timothy Boyce, *Rachael Confair, Tim Craig (Crew Leader), Jesse Dwyer, *Michael Dyer, *Melanie Engstrom, Bruce Gorman, Doug Gregory (Crew Leader), *Christoph Hilscher, Nancy Hughes (Registration), Els Janus, Jack Janus, Sally Kirch (Event Manager), Lynn Larremore (Crew Leader), *Sheldon McGuffin and friend Michael, Marilyn Schrab (Food Service), Mike Snodgrass (Tool Manager/Crew Leader), Nell Teter, Sue Thiebes (Photographer) * Indicates first VOAz Event

Thanks to our event partners:

Patti Fenner, Noxious Weed Program Manager for Tonto National Forest, Rangers Jeff Fischer & Dennis Gaffney.
Brian Church (Bartlett Lake Marina) for the fabulous location for our lunch.
Total Volunteer Hours: 239    Total Participants: 28
Event Outputs
Acre(s) cleared of noxious weeds: 27
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed (alternate metric): 2

February 2, 2008  Buffelgrass Removal

Volunteers: Donna Alexander (Crew Leader - Lunch Helper),Eric Anderson, Lou Arminio (Crew Leader),Michael Baker (Technical Advisor), *Julie Binter, Judy Breen, *Ben Carlson, *Mike Cassidy, *David Cassidy, Carolyn Chaney, Les Cherow, Dennis Cooley, Lisa Dubas (Registration Helper), James Flori, Michael Galwey, Johnnie Grgurich (Event Manager), Ryan Hort, *Chuck Kranz, Lynn Larremore (Crew Leader), *Amy Lingle, Joe Longbotham, Elba Martinez, *John Metzger, *Austin Pederson, *James Potts, *Brock Ray, Ken Satoyoshi, Wendy Satoyoshi, Mike Schendel, *Debra Stevens, Liisa Walimaa (Registration Helper), Joseph Zveglich (Crew Leader)
* Indicates first VOAz Event

Thanks to our event partners from the Phoenix Mountain Preserve Staff: Jerry Waehner - Park Manager and Park Rangers Robbin Schweitzer, and Scott Roberts.
Thanks to FOP Lodge # 2 (Larry and Pat) that made their facilities and parking lot available to us.

Total Volunteer Hours: 284    Total Participants: 36
December 1, 2007  Buffelgrass removal

The light brown plants are Buffelgrass. These are to be removed at future events. The darker area below looked the same before we completed our work on December 1.

VOAz volunteers were joined by Phoenix Parks staff under rainy conditions and took advantage of the damp soils to clear about three acres of Buffelgrass (345 bags or about 6 tons). Over 90% of the registered volunteers showed up for an event that many might have expected to be canceled. Thanks to some walk-ons, we actually exceeded are volunteer count target. The rain stopped between 8 am to 1 pm and we were able to complete the event as planned. We would have done even more work but a sudden and massive downpour ended the event just past 1 pm. Everyone left soaked but with a sense of something good achieved in the face of tough odds - a great job!

Thanks to our volunteers: Donna Alexander, Eric Anderson (Crew Leader), Chad, Joey & Lou Arminio (Crew Leader), Michael Baker (Technical Advisor), Ed Blanchard (Crew Leader), Rita Brady, Carolyn Chaney, Les Cherow (Crew Leader), Lisa Dubas, *Larry Fester, *Shirley Fester, Michael Galwey (Crew Leader & Tool Mgr.), Melissa Geiger (Food Service), Doug Gregory, Johnnie Grgurich (Event Manager), *Ryan Hart, Sandy Heunisch, Laura Horochowski, Judy Hulden (Crew Leader), Els Janus, Jack Janus, Sally Kirch, Daniel Knollmueller (Crew Leader), Lisa Kusmin, Gail Landry, Lynn Larremore, *Elba Martinez, *Linda Meyer, Peter Michels, Briana, Eric & Issac Orrill, Ted Osmond (Crew Leader), *Katherine Princic, Shawn Redfield, *Mike Schendel, Mike Snodgrass (Crew Leader), Nell Teter, Sue Thiebes (Photographer), Dave Toon, *Kathrine Williams, Joseph Zveglich (Crew Leader) * Indicates first VOAz Event

Thanks to our event partners Phoenix Mountain Preserve: Park Supervisor, Jerry Waehner, and Park Rangers Robbin Schweitzer, Paul Paonessa, and Scott Roberts, for helping with supervision and removal of filled bags. Thanks to FOP Lodge # 2, Larry and Pat, for making opening their facilities and parking lot available to us.

Total Volunteer Hours: 333    Total Participants: 44
Event Outputs
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed: 6

March 10, 2007  Fountain Grass Removal

Crew cozy up to 94 bags of Fountain grass with 120 yet to load

On a beautiful Saturday, VOAz volunteers assisted the Tonto National Forest Service with the removal of Fountain grass near the Riverside Campground at Bartlett Lake.  In 4 hours of work, we: filled 220 bags, removed 4220 lbs, cleared 2.3 acres, and prevent 528,00 future plants (derived from estimated number of seeds that were on the plants bagged)!  Almost a bag a minute. Thoroughly impressed our host, Patti Fenner, by filling her trailer that had ‘never been filled’ in about two hours!

Work Crew Members: Judy Breen, Jane Broughton, Steve Corvin, Laura Ditroia (parking director), Mary Ann Dumont, Jesse Dwyer (crew leader), Howard Fromm, Mike Galwey (crew leader/tool manager), Doug Gregory (registration), Els Janus, Jack Janus, Sally Kirch (crew leader), Gail Landry (photographer), Betsy Loeb, Leslie Lang, Peter Michels, Donley Pochop, Marilyn Schrab (chef), Dana Stedron (event manager), Nell Teter (registration), Sue Thiebes, and Joe Zveglich (crew leader) (Bold = first VOAz event)
Total Volunteer Hours: 122    Total Participants: 22
Event Outputs
Acre(s) cleared of noxious weeds: 2.3
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed (duplicate measure): 2.1

March 19 - 20, 2005  Malta Starthistle Eradication

Susan J. wins the largest Malta Star thistle bouquet contest.

Cathy Frei, Susan Hoffman, Susan Jones, Sally Kirch, Randall Klingman, Daniel Knollmueller, Fred Kraps, Gail Landry, John Mullen, Ted Osmond, Marilyn Schrab, Mike Snodgrass, Nancy Spence, and Sandra Stirnweis toughed it out on a wet to remove fifty 32-gallon bags of Malta Starthistle and African mustard ranging in size from 2 inches to 2+ feet buried among thick wet vegetation. This effort made a big dent on one of the affected areas of the Tonto National Forest. To warm them up, they were treated to a hot lunch of beef and barley soup and Ribollita (Italian soup). Volunteers who stayed until Sunday were treated to a tour of the giant saguaro, crested saguaro, and Brazaletes Pueblo Ruin by Patti Fenner (Noxious Weed Program Manager) and Scott Wood (archaeologist for Tonto National Forest).
Total Volunteer Hours: 110    Total Participants: 14
Event Outputs
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed: 1

September 28, 2002  Fountain Grass Eradication

Seth, Tim and Fred rappelled down the steep and unstable slope on the north side of the road to clear this zone.

Twenty seven VOAz volunteers were join by BLM and county staff for this National Public Lands Day event. Together we devastated a significant stand of fountain grass from the margins of the west entrance road to Lake Pleasant Regional Park.

Total Volunteer Hours: 155    Total Participants: 27
Event Outputs
Ton(s)of noxious weeds removed: 2

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