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Reward being offered in saguaro slashing case

Posted at 10:47 PM, Jan 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-29 19:46:23-05

National Park Officials are investigating an act of vandalism after someone slashed or chopped more than a dozen cacti along the Gould Mine Trail at Saguaro National Park West. Officials are offering a $500 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.

Chief Ranger Ray O'Neil says at least nine saguaros were damaged, along with six prickly pears and a couple of cholla cacti. He says they believe the crime occurred Saturday morning. 

The damaged cacti are about a 20 minute hike from the trail head near the Sonoran Desert Museum. O'Neil says the smaller damaged saguaros were about 20 to 30 years old while the taller saguaros could be more than 100 years old. 

"That's pretty horrible because we love our cactus, we love our saguaros," said Esther White, a hiker.

Officials can't say for sure what kind of weapon was used but believe it was something sharp and heavy. Because the cacti sit on federal, protected land, O'Neil says the consequences are severe. 

"It's a federal misdemeanor so there can be penalties up to six months in jail, fines up to $5,000 in addition there can be civil penalties," he said. 

This is similar to incidents from 2013 at Saguaro National Park East. Saguaro cacti were spray painted with graffiti early in the year. Later, a handful of cacti were cut down or knocked over. Two men admitted to that second incident and were asked to pay for restoration.

The saguaro is protected here in Arizona by the Native Plant Protection Act and only grows naturally in the Sonoran Desert. There are approximately 1.6 million individual saguaro plants growing within Saguaro National Park.
 
In this incident, Rangers received a tip that a man in his late teens or early 20s was walking near the scene swinging two swords. Blood was found on the ground next to one of the damaged cactuses, leading officials to believe that the person involved in the incident was injured. The blood was collected as evidence.
 
Anyone with information, especially anyone who hiked along Gould Mine Trail Saturday morning, is asked to contact the park's tip line at 520-733-5118.