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Red Brome Grass Fuels Wildfires in Arizona

May 12, 2006

MESA, Ariz. — With the fire season already upon us, a symposium, hosted by Arizona State University at the Polytechnic campus May 16-17, will open the discussion on how to better control the overgrowth of red brome grass to help reduce the threat of wide spread fires.

Red Brome is a non-native annual grass introduced from the Mediterranean area. Unfortunately, the grass flourishes in warm climates.

"Arizona's landscape has changed drastically because of recent wildfires, like the Rodeo Chedeski, Willow and Cave Creek Complex fires, that burned thousands of acres of land, fueled by red brome," says John Brock, ASU Applied Biological Sciences professor.

Brock says that a minimum of 50 years is needed for the burned sites to recover when a wildfire does occur.

"The desert does not have a fire adapted vegetation type and the character of the Sonoran desert changes greatly after a fire," says Brock. "Sagauros, other cacti, and trees like palo verde have a very high mortality rate to fire."

Symposium attendees include research scientists from the southwest who are in academia and federal research organizations, land managers from federal, state, county and city agencies, and interested public. They will come together to educate each other on the ecological impacts of the exotic annual red brome grass, and its role in the promotion of wildfire in the Sonoran desert.

There is no way to eradicate such a plant from the desert. However, discussions at the symposium will focus on the range of ways to minimize it, from controlled burns to controlled livestock grazing. Part of the program will be devoted to restoration techniques and processes as well.

"During the symposium we will have presentations on natural ways to control the plant with perhaps soil organisms like myco-herbicides, diseases or seed fungi," says Brock. "We probably do not want to eradicate it but to suppress its population to shift the dominance in the community to native species."

Even though it has its negatives, the grass does have some benefits to the desert ecosystem. "When red brome grass is young and tender, desert animals, like quail and desert tortoise, use the grass as a food source," says Brock. "Red brome grass also provides surface cover, so it can help reduce surface soil erosion."

ASU Polytechnic's STAR research center and Applied Biological Sciences department is hosting the event, with support from the Southwest Vegetation Management Association, the Arizona Section of the Society for Range Management, the Nature Conservancy, Tonto National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds.

NOTE: Reporters are invited to attend the event and/or the press conference planned for May 17 at 2:30 p.m., where you will be able to ask questions of the presenters following the meeting. Please contact Professor John Brock (480) 727-1240 or if you plan to attend.