Rescue nursery aims to save saguaros from climate change

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Thanks to a donation from the Arizona Lottery, conservationists have a saguaro rescue nursery to try to rehabilitate saguaros that burn in wildfires.

MESA, Ariz. – “They’re like, ‘oh yeah, we just cut them and put them straight in,'” Bec Verman with the Tonto National Forest said. “And we’re like, excuse me, what?”

It’s an idea that never occurred to them. Or, most people involved in cacti conservation.

Apparently you can cut the bottom off a saguaro, put the cut end about an inch into the ground, water it in, and the cactus will sprout new roots.

And this idea may be responsible for saving countless injured and dying saguaros.

Verman said climate change and drought are driving more wildfires in deserts. Traditionally, fires burn more in denser forest areas. But not anymore.

“The saguaros don’t come back,” Verman said. “The Sonoran Desert ecosystem is not adapted to fire.”

RELATED: Will Arizona saguaros survive climate change and drought?

Now, thanks to a donation from the Arizona Lottery, conservationists have a saguaro rescue nursery to try and rehabilitate saguaros that have burned.

There are rows of cacti in a remote area near the Salt River in Mesa, all covered in burlap for protection. Most were saved from the scorch scar of the bushfire, which scorched the Four Peaks region in 2020.

And because saguaros can live for up to 200 years (no one really knows for sure), they grow very slowly. When they burn, it takes generations to regrow…if any survive.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Verman said. “Most of these plants take hundreds and hundreds of years to adapt and adjust.”

And that’s where the cutting trick comes in. Although it is illegal to harm a saguaro in Arizona, people who rescue these cacti are allowed to do so to save them.

The hope is that these cacti can recover and repopulate the desert.

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