by David Safier
(TASL) If you don't know about the threat of buffelgrass to Tucson's desert ecosystem, you need to educate yourself. Jim Kiser has an excellent op ed in today's Star, a group of scientists and politicians put together an eye-opening 10 minute video and the Bufflegrass Information Center website is filled with information.
Basically, buffelgrass is an invasive species that spreads through our desert and in a fire burns at high enough temperatures to wipe out saguaro and other native species. After the fire, buffelgrass will grow back, and the native species will be gone forever.
The problem is, how do we get rid of it? The two viable options are pulling the plants out by their roots and spraying them with herbicide.
I have an absolutely serious proposal for getting large, regular crews to pull out the stuff by its roots. Pay students to do it.
Here's how this would work. Let high schools know that students can earn $10 an hour to spend a weekend day pulling out buffelgrass. Send buses around to pick kids up from their high school parking lots. Take them to the work location, give them a half hour orientation explaining the problem, give them the necessary tools and adult supervision and put them to work. It's laborious but not overly strenuous work that healthy teens can accomplish easily. At noon, give them a hearty lunch and some time to play around, then set them to work again. Give them their checks at the end of the day, and drive them back to their school parking lots.
Let's look at the benefits of getting students involved. First, you have a huge labor market to draw on. If you pay a reasonable wage and advertise the opportunity in high schools, I'm willing to bet you can get enough students to send out crews on a regular basis. Lots of students can use the extra cash. And as an old high school teacher, I know that choirs and bands are forever fundraising for some trip or event. They hold car washes or do inventory in businesses or something like that. Can you imagine an entire school band out there digging up buffelgrass to get enough money to, say, march in the Rose Bowl parade?
Second, you get these young folks out into the natural world. Many of them have spent little time in what is known as the lushest, greenest desert in the world -- truly a natural wonder. I wrote earlier about the national No Child Left Inside movement. This is a natural component of the movement, where students not only find themselves in the midst of the unique Sonoran desert but actually help preserve its health and beauty.
Third, this would be an invaluable educational experience for students. It combines the value of public service with a hands-on education about the fragility of ecosystems. I know enough about teenagers to say that, once they've dug up buffelgrass in Sabino Canyon, they'll consider themselves part owners of the place. Every time they hear about the Canyon, they'll say proudly, "Yeah, I cleared the buffelgrass out of there." They may even visit the spot to see if the grass has come back. And every time they walk by a patch of the stuff, they'll say knowingly, "There's more of that damn buffelgrass. We need to do something about that crap. Did you know I spent hours digging that stuff up?"
"Why don't we just ask the students to volunteer?" some economy-minded reader might ask. "Because it won't work," I answer. You need an incentive to get them out there. The possibility of making $75 to $100 on a Saturday is a pretty big incentive.
"Where do we get the money?" that same reader might ask. My answer is, do you know how much a buffelgrass fire will cost, both in dollars and in lost Sonoran Desert? The price of paying students and adult supervisors is minimal in comparison. If it's a good idea, the question isn't, "Where do we get the money?" It's, "Why doesn't the government free up a few million dollars for this win-win solution to a potentially devastating problem?" We can spend a billion on a Stealth Bomber. How about spending what it costs to make the left wing of that plane to save our cactus forests?
This is all easy for me to say, of course. I just write words, post them and go on about my life. I'm not actually getting out there and helping to make this happen. It's a fair criticism, but I know my limitations. I don't have the personality or the connections to organize this kind of stuff. So I'm doing the best I can by putting the idea out there and hoping the right people figure out how to make something like this happen.