Friday, April 14, 2006

Disappearing Saguaros and Xeriscaping in Arizona has its downside

Protecting the disappearing saguaro cacti from development in Arizona is the prickly mission of the Cactus Rescue Crew. But the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association has bought into the program, understanding that cooperation is critical on both sides.
Two years ago, concern about disappearing desert in Pima County led to the passage of a $174 million bond issue to buy open land for conservation and to a plan to cluster development in less environmentally sensitive areas.

Some cities are beginning to offer homeowners and businesses financial incentives for pulling up lawn and putting in approved low-water-use plants. The city of Scottsdale, for example, recently began a successful "turf removal rebate" of 25 cents a square foot, up to a maximum of $1,500.

But xeriscaping has had unintended consequences. Nonnative African grasses introduced for drought-tolerant landscaping have begun to invade desert areas. Last year was the state's biggest fire season, fueled in part by invasive grasses, said Travis Bean, a research specialist at the University of Arizona's School of Natural Resources.

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