Vandals destroy several Saguaros; hikers seek justice for protected plants

They symbolize Arizona and they're on our license plate, but now investigators are trying to find the person responsible for running over and destroying nearly a dozen Saguaro cactus at White Tank Mountain Regional Park. FOX 10's Nicole Garcia reports. 2/25/15

The majestic Saguaro is protected by state law.  Here in Arizona, cutting, shooting or knocking down a Saguaro for fun is considered cactus cruelty and is punishable by fines and even prison time.

The hikers who found the downed cacti are seeking justice.

Jim Keikkala is a member of the Sun City Festival hiking club and is familiar with this area of the park.  He got a call from a friend who made the discovery.

"He said, Jim, you need to get out here right away because we got a disaster on our hands."

Keikkala says he was appalled at what he saw -- nearly a dozen downed Saguaro cacti.

"Someone has used an ATV.. very large tired ATV to shove these over," he said.  "This brave soul held out for a long time due to the amount of pressure they had to put on him in order to get over."

It takes about 80 to 100 years for a Saguaro to reach 15 feet and start growing its fist arm.

Keikkala says the downed cacti were all over 20 feet tall.  Some had arms.  He estimates each cacti were around 150 years old.

"Well over 1,000 years of growth in the 11 that we discovered, making it completely egregious someone would be as senseless and violent as this," he said.

This act of destruction is a crime adn for this passionate hiker, this is practically cruelty.

"They have a reverence.  They have a spirit like all living things."

Keikkala wants to see justice and is asking the public for help.  He says the suspect vehicle will likely have cactus residue on the front.  He's even offering a reward for information leading to an arrest in this case.

"I will personally guarantee $500 if the person can be found."

Destroying a Saguaro cactus is a class 4 felony under Arizona state law, punishable by monetary fines and up to nearly four years in prison.

Last year, a 16-year-old boy was arrested for chopping off the arm of a 150-year-old Saguaro in Scottsdale and was charged with felony criminal damage.

Anyone with information in this case is asked to call the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office at (602) 876-1011.

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