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Saguaro Census finds Arizona's iconic desert cactus could be in trouble

Think back to the summer of 2020. It was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we all were reeling from the realization that we had to stay away from people for who knows how long. But also, here in Arizona, we experienced record heat — and it was the summer of the so-called :non-soon" when we got little to no rain.

It was brutal — not just for people, but for one of our most iconic plants here in the Sonoran desert: the saguaro cactus.

We started to see giant saguaros that had stood tall in the Valley for hundreds of years fall over. People started propping them up in their yards or cutting them down before they collapsed.

That was when Tania Hernandez had an idea. She’s the New World succulents research scientist with Desert Botanical Garden, and she has devoted her life’s work to studying cactus. She launched the Saguaro Census, where people around the Valley could use a free mobile app to document the cactus here including the location, photos and notes about the health of the saguaro.

The response was overwhelming — they collected more than 9,000 observations. And found that they need help.

The Show spoke with Hernandez to learn about the need.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.