Leave those cactus alone

 

“Cactus cop” Jim McGinnis, an investigator for Arizona’s Department of Agriculture, is tired of thieves ripping saguaro cacti out of the desert. “Everybody wants a saguaro in their front yard,” he complains, and unfortunately, thieves around Tucson are happy to oblige by stealing some of the magnificent plants from public lands. The pilferers target the relatively young plants, 30 to 50 years old and from 4 to 7 feet tall, then sell them to nurseries and homeowners for $1,000 or more.

But saguaro snatchers may soon have to combat high-tech plant protection, reports The Associated Press. The Park Service plans to imbed microchips smaller than dimes in selected saguaros; if rangers see a truck passing by loaded with cacti, they can stop it and just wave a wand over the plants. Any cactus carrying a hidden chip will send out a signal. Wands could also be wielded at landscape businesses, “particularly if we know that a theft had occurred and that the cactus had not been found,” says Bob Love, chief ranger at Saguaro National Park.

The iconic cacti, which grow up to 50 feet tall and weigh thousands of pounds, can spout “gaggles of arms” starting around the age of 70. No one knows how many are growing throughout Arizona, but a 2000 survey estimated 1.3 million living within Saguaro National Park. “Cactus-chipping” already has a precedent: The Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona and Nevada put microchips in barrel cactuses in 1999, and a staffer there says the practice has helped stymie poachers.