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COLLECTORS `DIG’ RARE CACTUS PLANTS

SHARE COLLECTORS `DIG’ RARE CACTUS PLANTS

A federal plan to save a rare cactus that grows in Utah and Colorado includes a crackdown on professional and amateur cactus growers who have been digging up the plants for private collections.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's draft recovery plan for the Uinta Basin hookless cactus, or Sclerocactus glaucus, notes the plant is "prized" by cactus growers for its purplish-red flowers.The Colorado population has lost an estimated 200 to 300 plants to collectors since 1977, but there is no estimates for losses in Utah, the document said.

The plan calls for increased monitoring of the plants by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and local law enforcement officers.

It also encourages the service to "work with legitimate, bona fide cactus horticulturists to provide a source of S. glaucus plants to satisfy the horticultural demand for this species. This will be accomplished by using plants currently in cultivation and, if necessary, seed collected from wild population under permit."

The cactus was designated a threatened species in 1979 and is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Its total population is estimated at 20,000 plants found in three main areas: along the Green River in Utah's Uinta Basin, along the Gunnison River near Delta, Colo., and along the Colorado River near DeBeque, Colo.

Other threats to the cactus include oil shale development, gold mining, oil and gas development, sand and gravel quarrying, building stone collection, off-road vehicles and water development. The recovery plan contains provisions to reduce the threat from those sources. Written comments on the plan will be accepted until July 16.