In 2020, the Bush Fire ripped through the Sonoran desert in Arizona, charring nearly 200,000 acres of pristine wild land in the Tonto National Forest.
Even more devastating was the loss of Arizona's most iconic images.
“We lost, we estimated around 80,000 saguaros in just that one fire, so for something that is only found here in Arizona, that’s a significant number,” said Bec Veerman with the Tonto National Forest.
Veerman says the tragic loss of so many saguaros soon prompted action. Work is now underway thanks to a number of partnerships between TNF, Four Peaks Brewing Company, the National Forest Association and a company called Natural Restorations.
The team is restoring the spiked giants as quickly as possible.
“So, these are some of the saguaros that we’ve rescued,” said Nicole Corey holding a 50-pound Saguaro arm recovered from the Bush Fire burn scar.
Nicole Corey with Natural Restorations is giving us a tour of the new saguaro nursery, a place where fire-damaged or dying saguaro cacti are getting a second chance at life.
“We cried when we first drove through down Bush highway after seeing the bush fire go through and we in that moment committed ourselves to replanting,” said Corey.
Their teams now scour the burn scar for salvageable specimens. Replanting them here under their watchful care.
Once healthy enough, they’re returned to their exact location thanks to GPS. Quickly helping restore the fragile ecosystem.
“Anything we collect from a burn scar will be tagged and marked so that we can put it back where it came from,” said Veerman.
“They come here for a couple of weeks and then we put them back in the ground,” said Corey.
So far, they’ve replanted more than 1,000. The Arizona Lottery recently awarded $45,000 in marketing funds toward the continued effort.
“We are able to take some of that money and do things like this which is giving back to the community in a way that’s going to last for generations,” said John Gilliland, spokesperson for the Arizona Lottery.
A generous contribution to a more than worthy cause because the state certainly wouldn’t be the same without them.
This story was first reported by Cameron Polom at KNXV in Phoenix, Arizona.