Real estate investor Lew McGinnis began his career as an entrepreneur when he was 12 years old. Early success led to numerous ventures that included auto sales and real estate. A longtime philanthropist as well, Lew McGinnis has served as an advocate for literacy and education. He has served as the director of a number of organizations, including the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Foundation.
On its 98-acre campus in Tucson, Arizona, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum blends exhibits that feature zoological, botanical, artistic, and historical themes. Unlike other museums, Arizona-Sonora Desert successfully brings different disciplines together to inspire residents and visitors and to increase their understanding of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.
A key element of the museum’s endeavors includes a commitment to conservation and education. The Conservation Education and Science Department serves as a regional hub for ongoing educational, awareness, and research programming. The department is currently an integral part of the region’s fight against buffelgrass, an invasive plant that is a significant threat to the Sonoran Desert’s ecosystem.
Indigenous to Africa and Asia, buffelgrass was introduced to the region in the 1940s in an experiment to test the grass’s effectiveness in preventing erosion. Unfortunately, the grass spread and now competes with native species for precious water, nutrients, and space. Researchers have noticed a significant reduction of saguaro cactus populations since buffelgrass was introduced.
In addition to damaging the Sonoran Desert’s ecosystem, buffelgrass poses a risk to life and property. The grass is drought hardy, extremely durable, and fire resistant. Fires that start in areas with prolific buffelgrass burn hotter and spread faster.
Efforts to remove buffelgrass include manual and mechanical removal, chemical application, and biological control. Awareness campaigns have been launched to educate the public about the risks of buffelgrass. Conservation efforts also involve recruiting volunteers to manually remove the plants.