Across the southwest, cacti are being stolen from public lands in record numbers

From the towering saguaros in Saguaro National Park to tiny cacti species popular as houseplants, the global demand for cacti is driving an underground trade that is difficult for law enforcement to police.

In Saguaro National Park, cactus poaching became so grave that the National Park Service began inserting microchips into cactus trunks, an effort that has since discouraged poachers.

But sales of cacti in the US and around the world are exploding; the market is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. Because cacti are notoriously slow growing, poachers have taken to pulling them directly out of the ground. While it is difficult to measure the extent of the poaching, major busts point to the scale of the problem. In 2014 (most recent numbers), more than 2,600 cacti were seized at US borders, up from 411 the year before.

Classic Hikes of the Smokies series announced

Friends of the Smokies has released their ninth annual Classic Hikes of the Smokies series. On the second Tuesday of each month from March to December, the organization holds guided hikes to raise funds for the Trails Forever program, which supports restoration and rehabilitation of some of the most impacted trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The hikes feature interpretation of the trail, history, and park projects supported by Friends of the Smokies. The first hike of the year is the 4.3-mile Big Creek trail on March 12. Tickets are $20 for members and $35 for new members.

On the second Tuesday of each month from March to December, the organization holds guided hikes to raise funds for the Trails Forever program, which supports restoration and rehabilitation of some of the most impacted trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The hikes feature interpretation of the trail, history, and park projects supported by Friends of the Smokies. The first hike of the year is the 4.3-mile Big Creek trail on March 12. Tickets are $20 for members and $35 for new members.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission advance draft rule to protect Florida songbirds

At it’s February meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission directed staff to move forward with a draft rule to protect Florida’s native songbirds from illegal trapping.

To prevent the continued taking of native birds, staff recommended creating a new rule for bird traps. The rule would provide an additional tool to law enforcement to prevent the poaching of birds, while still allowing for lawful uses of bird traps.

Illegal trapping of native birds is a long-time concern in the state of Florida, especially in southern Florida, where trapping is believed to be widespread. The public is invited to provide feedback to the proposed rule.