"Shiva" saguaro in the Avra Valley. Photo Ted Robbins.

“Shiva” saguaro in the Avra Valley. Photo Ted Robbins.

Threats to Ironwood

In Mexico, woodcutting alone causes an average 17% reduction in ironwood’s dominance in the vegetation of the areas studied. The demand for wood even sends Mexicans over the U.S. border to cut ironwood from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and other protected areas. Other impacts threaten ironwood habitat on both sides of the border, especially habitat fragmentation due to the rapid growth of cities such as Tucson, Yuma, Phoenix, Hermosillo and Mexicali, and the conversion of ironwood habitat to agricultural lands.

Grazing and competition by exotic species such as buffelgrass pose additional serious threats to ironwood. Buffelgrass, a popular forage grass for cattle, is highly invasive. Studies show it decreases plant species richness and diversity in native plant communities and increases the frequency of fires. Fueled by buffelgrass, these hot burning wildfires destroy ironwood and other trees and cactus. Among other threats, the population explosion in the Sonoran Desert has led to increasing recreational impacts in ironwood habitat.


Southern Arizona is entering a new stage in the fight against buffelgrass, as SABCC hands over its responsibilities to the Arizona-Sonora Desert MuseumPima Association of Governments and Sky Island Alliance, who are strongly positioned to wage the battle over the long-term. Learn more about buffelgrass and the ongoing fight to preserve our desert here.

Visit their websites to learn about why it’s so important to remove this game-changer from the Sonoran Desert now. It is THE most significant threat to our homes, businesses, and all the plants and animals that make this such a great place to live.


Threats to the Ironwood Forest National Monument

Located in Pima and Pinal counties, the Ironwood Forest National Monument is home to one of the most unique and beautiful Sonoran Desert landscapes in Southern Arizona.

The Ironwood Forest National Monument borders the Tohono O’odham Nation and both suffer from high volumes of undocumented immigrant traffic as well as illegal drug traffic moving north into the Phoenix area.  The border patrol investigating on routes through the Monument created by undocumented immigrant and drug trafficking use further exasperate the problem of creating “roads” where none existed.  This cycle creates a threatening and sometimes dangerous situation for recreational users who may be out hiking, hunting, camping, and enjoying the Ironwood Forest.  A tremendous trash issue is created wherever undocumented immigrants travel through the desert including clothing, water bottles, food packaging and backpacks; and unfortunately this is also true on the National Monument.

The Ironwood Forest is home to large areas of rare sensitive soils that continue to be damaged by illegal off road vehicle use, and undocumented immigrant traffic. Off road vehicles that travel illegally in the washes that all wildlife regularly use threatens desert big horn sheep and other native animals.

Buffelgrass is an invasive species that grows prolifically and burns much faster and hotter that the regional Sonoran Desert flora, creating a real threat to all native species by being a fire hazard.  Buffelgrass threatens all of southern Arizona by spreading into areas at a rate of ten to one.  Where you have one plant, ten will seed and grow the next season, one hundred the next, etc.

Ironwood Forest National Monument Recreational Shooting Site Before Clean-up by the Friends of Ironwood Forest

Ironwood Forest National Monument Recreational Shooting Site Before Clean-up by the Friends of Ironwood Forest

An additional threat is illegal recreational shooting.  Illegal and reckless recreational shooting has caused damage to important archeological sites (petroglyphs and pictographs), as well as Saguaro cactus, Ironwoods trees, and other sensitive native vegetation. The perpetrators of these senseless and illegal acts have also been responsible for leaving tons (literally) of shot up trash on the monument.

In addition, an equally serious threat stems from the influences of development which pervades the surrounding area. The pressures imposed by these activities tend to have a negative impact on the resources of the monument and surrounding area.

The Ironwood Forest National Monument is used by the public for multiple recreational uses, and although it should be an area where all uses can coexist, many of these threats to the Monument create obstacles for recreational use.  The Friends of Ironwood Forest hope that through education, volunteer projects, and advocacy we can help to reduce and eliminate some of these threats to the Ironwood Forest National Monument, indeed we hope to leave this beautiful land better for future generations to enjoy.