Plant Poaching Is A Problem On Public Lands

National Parks and public lands in the West are having trouble with cactus poachers. But some park rangers are fighting back by micro-chipping their cacti.

According to Ray O’Neil, chief ranger at Saguaro National Park near Tucson Arizona, about ten years ago, the problem of cactus theft became hard to ignore. People were hauling away giant saguaros from the park to use in landscaping, for home décor, or to sell on the black market.

“So we instituted a program,” O’Neill said, “where we insert small little pit tags in many of our cactuses.”

The tags identify where the stolen cactus is from and he said that works as a poaching deterrent.

Saguaros don’t rebound very quickly. They only grow about a foot per decade.  

But cacti and succulents have grown in popularity over the last several years and O’Neil said national parks have to be on alert for black market threats to other species in their parks.

“We monitor websites to see if cactuses in the park are getting to a market value where that could be a concern,” said O’Neil.

Right now, he said, a saguaro goes for about $100 a foot.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.