Using fire to beat back invasive giant cane on the banks of the Rio Grande

Fires along river

Each year, WWF leads a team of park rangers, conservationists from Texas’s Big Bend National Park and Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas, and the Mexican  firefighters known as Los Diablos. Together they set controlled fires along remote stretches of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo River. Why? To beat back giant cane, a highly invasive, bamboo-like grass that traps sediment and narrows the river’s flow, burying aquatic habitat and subjecting riverside communities to flooding. Eliminating the cane helps restore a shallower, wider, more natural river, improving water security for people and wildlife on both sides of the border.



The group convenes to determine the best locations to treat the cane, considering priority areas for burning and important habitat or infrastructure that must be avoided.


To reach remote canyon areas, the team travels down the river in canoes packed with all the supplies and tools needed for the job, camping along the way.


The crew uses special guns or drip torches— essentially small flame throwers—to light controlled fires. Crew members monitor the burns, which last just a few hours.


Burning thins the cane in preparation for the next step: application of an EPA-approved herbicide that kills the cane but doesn’t harm the river’s habitat.


A year later, the group returns to survey and monitor conditions, spot-treating patches that need herbicide to maintain progress against the invasive species.


Since the project began, over 37 miles on each side of the river have been cleared. So far, the cane-clearing has been a sustainable solution that requires only minimal maintenance.

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