Former Northwest Colorado resident saving cacti

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Former Northwest Colorado resident Jimmy George used to work in Colorado's open pit coal mines, where trees are bulldozed and the soil stripped away to get at the coal.

"The environmentalists made us put it back to its natural state as much as possible, but we just destroyed so much country as far as the trees are concerned," George said.

In a high-altitude area where hundred-year-old trees are only a few feet high, it could take a lifetime or more to establish trees on a former strip mine site.

After the Colorado rancher and his wife, Pam, moved to Mesquite, Nev., in 2006, Jimmy got a job running heavy equipment for a developer, creating roads for new development.

"That's when I actually fell in love with the desert so much," he said. He couldn't bring himself to just bulldoze the cacti aside.

"I had never seen these cactus before, I thought, 'By golly, I would like to transplant one of these,' and then I got obsessed by it," he said.

Working first for Legacy Construction and then for Pride Construction, he got permission to dig up cacti that would be bulldozed and took them home. Some he planted in his yard; others he gave to friends and neighbors.

"I guess I've dug up 150 to 200," he said. "I was saving chollas and cottontops. Those were the ones I could see. I wish I could have saved some of those" beavertail.

One cottontop cluster in his yard has 23 heads.

"I was totally blown away by how much they weigh," he said. "I've got one in my back yard I bet weighs 200 pounds. One cactus took four full grown men to take it to pickup."

He and Pam have become involved in the Southwest lifestyle, and the cacti fit well into their landscaping. Jimmy even has moved some of the native sandstone with the cacti to make the setting as natural as possible.

"It's been an awful lot of hard work," said Jimmy, "but it's worth it. I'm a novice at it, but I absolutely love trying to save the natural America we got left."

The cacti he has moved seem to be thriving. Some have even bloomed. The Georges especially like what happens to the cottontop cacti when it rains - the spines turn a brilliant magenta.

It is illegal to dig up desert plants on public lands, but where plants are going to be destroyed by development on private land, they can be removed for transplanting with the written permission of the landowner. The Nevada Division of Forestry requires a permit if the plants are going to be transported. The transportation permits are free and are available at the forestry office in Las Vegas.

If the plants are to be sold, each one requires a $2 tag from the forestry office. These measures are to ensure people don't go onto public lands and dig up cacti and Joshua trees, then claim the plants came from private land, said a forestry official.

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