"Heat, drought and an invasive grass are driving wildfires killing the giant saguaros in Arizona, raising concerns about how the cactus will recover without human intervention."
"TUCSON, Ariz. — Jerry McHale dug a small hole with a shovel near the base of a Palo Verde tree and placed a cactus a few inches tall in it. The saguaro was just old enough to sprout the needles it needs to keep desert rats and jackrabbits from devouring it. One by one, McHale and a small group of volunteers planted the young cactuses under “nursing plants” that will help them grow, some to nearly 40 feet tall, over the coming centuries at the Tucson Audubon Society’s Mason Center.
Each saguaro planted was a small part of a big project from the conservation and birding group, which is planting 14,000 saguaros over the next two years to help restore the cactuses’ dwindling population. At the same time, they are removing 1,000 acres of an invasive grass that has helped fuel wildfires that have been more destructive across the Sonoran Desert in recent years, particularly to the giant cactuses.
“Saguaros aren’t regenerating and establishing populations in the wild anymore in the last 24 years,” Aya Pickett, a restoration project manager with the Tucson Audubon Society, told the group of volunteers before they set off to plant cactuses. “They really require specific weather conditions. A really good monsoon season. One really good winter. And then another really good monsoon season after that.”"