Savin' the Desert, One Thorn at a Time

New legislation may help save the state's prickliest plants.

There are many bumps on the road to passing a bill, and puns may be the least of them, but Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, had to endure a few of them yesterday when his cactus rustling bill passed through the Senate Natural Resources Committee (yes, the committee's chair, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, did refer to it as a sticky issue and said they should get to the point. D'oh.)

Senate Bill 689 sounds like a spoof, but the move toward urban xeriscaping - using natural solutions to landscape in arid zones - has lead to a lucrative market in cacti. So lucrative, in fact, that thieves have been hauling entire truckloads of stolen cacti out of state and national parks. The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates that 200 species of cactus in the Southwest are in danger of extinction from this trade, which could destabilize the desert ecology. Shapleigh's bill says that cactus vendors and exporters must be able to prove where they came from and that all desert plants for sale must be marked with a Texas Department of Agriculture stamp.

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