There seems no end to the steady march of subdivisions and strip malls across southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Every week greater Tucson grows by approximately 150 people*, and in the course of a year nearly 5,000 acres of the area’s desert are lost to development. But thanks to the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society’s Cactus Rescue Crew, thousands of spiny cacti are at least being saved from the bulldozers.
Builders who apply for a permit to clear land can ask the organization to identify and remove native plants before the ground is touched. Rescue crew members, who are all volunteers, can buy discounted plants if they work on that operation. The other salvaged cacti are donated or sold to pay for operating expenses and environmental education programs. Since the society launched the crew in 1999, it has rescued more than 58,000 plants*, including the emblematic saguaro cactus, that would otherwise have been mulched or sent to a dump.
This story originally ran in the September-October 2006 issue as "Cactus Huggers."
*These figures have been updated.