International criminals rappelling down cliff sides. Game wardens dressed in camouflage to track them. Investigators confiscating contraband destined for faraway places.

These scenes sound more like something from a James Bond movie than where they actually occurred: a California state park. And though they also sound like something from the drug trade, they involve succulents — California dudleya (or liveforevers), our native variety of those succulent plants that have become so popular in home gardens and patio arrangements.

In recent years, poachers have ripped thousands of pounds of dudleya from California coastlines, shipping them overseas for high profits. Some are rare species, found nowhere else on Earth. Some are more than a hundred years old; few will live long outside their natural habitat.

The burgeoning international trade in wild species can rear its head in ways that devastate biodiversity. Investigators estimate that in less than five years, poachers have removed enormous quantities of dudleya plants worth millions of dollars from California’s wildlands.

Wildlife officials, conservation advocates and legislators are working to address this concerning trend. Assemblymember Chris Ward of San Diego has introduced Assembly Bill 223, which is in the Senate Appropriations Committee. We believe this legislation will help deter dudleya poaching and highlight the threats plants and wildlife face amid unchecked consumer demand.

Many people are familiar with the horrific poaching of wildlife to feed the demand for ivory or shark fins. Lesser known is the issue of plant poaching. Each year, poachers steal plants from wild habitats to support the demand for novelty specimens of orchids, carnivorous plants and succulents. Some of these species are on the verge of extinction. And whether we are talking about animals or plants, the same conclusion is true: When we commodify a living creature, we put a target on its back.

When poachers remove plants from the wild, whether they are rare or more common species, they damage more than just the plants themselves. Fragile coastal habitats can be irreparably damaged by poaching operations. Insects and pollinators, many of which are also imperiled, rely on native species like dudleya for habitat and food. Even more distressing is that poaching could be a nail in the coffin for some of our most endangered species.

Californians are fortunate to have more types of native plants than any other state in the nation. According to Conservation International, California is one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, and dudleya is an important part of that diversity. The state is home to 42 of the 68 types of dudleya known on Earth. Ten of those are listed under the California and/or federal endangered species acts.

Consumers don’t have to rely on the illegal plant trade to enjoy dudleya in their gardens. Many reputable nurseries carry dudleya that are cultivated ethically. Make it a point to know the sources of plants you purchase and ask when in doubt.

Please join us in asking California lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom to approve AB 223, which would make it explicitly illegal to poach California dudleya and increase penalties when poachers are caught. It would be the first California law drafted to specifically protect plants from poaching.

This is a unique opportunity to stem the global trade of dudleya and protect this vital part of California’s precious biodiversity.

Nick Jensen is the conservation program director of the California Native Plant Society, njensen@cnps.org. Patrick Foy is a board member of the California Fish and Game Wardens Supervisors and Managers Association, Calgamewarden@gmail.com.



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