First Annual “My Arizona” Lecture Focuses on the Buffelgrass Invasion in the Sonoran Desert

The School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona is launching an annual lecture series titled “My Arizona.”

The first lecture will be given by Julio Betancourt on Friday, Dec. 4 from 3:30-5:00 at the Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering Building, Room S202 (NE Corner of Speedway and Mountain). The lecture is titled, “Can We Save Arizona’s Sonoran Desert?” 

In addition to building on Betancourt’s work on invasive species and other threats to our desert ecosystem, the presentation will be augmented by the work of Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Jack Dykinga.

Refreshments will be served following the lecture.

The School of Geography and Development initiated the series to showcase interesting places and people in the state. New graduate students and faculty from across campus are especially encouraged to attend. Members of the community are also welcome.

“The idea behind this lecture series is to draw from on-campus resources — from such areas as the humanities, the social sciences and the sciences — and have faculty speak, from a personal vantage point, about some aspect of Arizona that is near and dear to them,” says J. P. Jones, director of the School.

Julio Betancourt, who is a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, is also an adjunct professor in the UA School of Geography and Development, the department of geosciences, the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, the Office of Arid Land Studies and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

Betancourt investigates how climate variability and climate change affect floods, fires, droughts and ecosystem dynamics to inform management of natural hazards and natural resources.

Betancourt has received prestigious awards from the American Water Resources Association, the Ecological Society of America, and the U.S. Department of Interior. In 2009, he was honored by the White House with the prestigious Presidential Rank Award, and also was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

About the Lecture
Large-scale invasions by Eurasian and African grasses, brought in by chance or to feed cattle and control erosion, have introduced frequent and extensive fires into American deserts that supported little or no burning in the pre-European era. Betancourt believes we are standing on a threshold and must now choose between saving the desert or resigning ourselves to these novel and combustible grasslands. What decisions must we make, who makes them, and how will they be implemented across complex physical and cultural landscapes?

“My own take on these issues is that of a federal scientist with a sense of place and an ongoing crusade to engage the private and public sectors in Southern Arizona, where buffelgrass now threatens to convert a beautiful Sonoran Desert into a burning savanna,” says Betancourt. “My presentation will be equally divided between defining what we stand to lose — the natural history of the Arizona Upland of the Sonoran Desert — and what we must continue to do to prevent its rapid demise.” 


Contact:  Liz Cordova, School of Geography & Development, 520-621-1652,