Friday, February 27, 2009

Saving the Saguaros

Feds to use computer chips to foil cactus thieves

TUCSON, Arizona (AP) -- Anyone thinking of swiping a stately saguaro cactus from the desert could soon be hauling off more than just a giant plant. National Park Service officials plan to imbed microchips in Arizona's signature plant to protect them from thieves who rip them from the desert to sell them to landscapers, nurseries and homeowners.

Saguaros are unique to the Sonoran Desert, 120,000 square miles covering portions of Arizona, California and the northern Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora. They're majestic giants that can grow to heights of 50 feet, sprout gaggles of arms and weigh several tons. They can take 50 years to flower and 70 years before sprouting an arm.

Plant pilferers typically target the relatively young and small specimens in the 4- to 7-foot range -- which are probably 30 to 50 years old. They typically can fetch $1,000 or more.

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