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Saguaro National Park gets new superintendent to protect iconic cacti

The park faces a list of challenges including wildland fires, and the effects of climate change where extreme heat could kill the iconic cacti there.
Saguaro National Park.
Posted at 3:58 PM, Mar 23, 2024

The National Parks Service has selected Scott Stonum as the latest superintendent of Saguaro National Park  — a vast arid landscape that stretches across 143 square miles in southern Arizona's portion of the Sonoran Desert — where the iconic Saguaro cactus makes its home. 

U.S. National Parks Service

Stonum, known as a "great leader of people," comes to the park at a time when extreme heat in the area caused by climate change — and various other threats, including wildland fires — cause fear for those concerned about the protection of the Saguaro cactus. 

Deputy Regional Director Lance Hatten said in a release, "Scott brings sound knowledge and experience around these issues and will be a great fit to lead the team at the park." 

Stonum has worked at seven national parks during his 35 year career with the service. 

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The park is divided into two districts: Saguaro West and Saguaro East, separated by the city of Tucson, and filled with the giant candelabra-shaped Saguaro cacti that stretch up to 50 feet, in some cases, towards the sky. They're strong giants, often living between 150 and 200 years, bearing their famous white blossoms which Arizona calls its state flower. 

Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers make holes in the cactus' trunks and branches where small birds then create their nests.

Before it was a national park, the area was established in 1933 as a monument, only much later in 1994 transforming into the multi-district Saguaro National Park, officially. 

Last year, the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona said that the condition of its cacti were affected because of the lack of precipitation and record high sustained heat conditions in recent years.  

Experts say the high heat puts excessive stress on the cacti, despite their ability to survive in desert climates. While they might experience some respite during the night in the cooler desert air, extreme heat during the day can tend to suffocate the cactus species, experts say. 

Continued increases in heat over time could cause new generations of the cactus giant to halt growth entirely.