July 8, 2006 — -- The cactus has been called the original inhabitant of Arizona: Saguaro, barrel, hedge hog, ocotillo, prickly pear and cholla are all native flora of the state.
But now, the newer residents are competing for space.
More than 170 new homes are being built in Phoenix and Tucson every day, and they are crowding out the flora.
Enter the Cactus Rescue Crew -- an all volunteer force whose mission is to save what's growing before homebuilders bulldoze the desert.
"We're hurrying as fast as we can to get as much off as we can," said group member Patsy Frannea.
"I can't stand the thought of these guys going to a landfill and being wasted," said another group member, Jerry Estruth.
The destruction of the cacti poses a serious problem for the fate of the species because it takes some of these plants decades to grow.
"That's about 7-feet tall," Cactus Crew member, Joe Frannea said of one specimen, "so that saguaro has probably been growing for 60 years or so."
ABC News went along for the group's 146th cactus rescue. The group finds the plants new homes in botanic gardens, public cactus sales even members' homes.
Ed Taczanowsky, a Cactus Crew member, also is president of the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association. He admits that embracing the prickly victims of development is good P.R.
"Builders have a pretty bad public perception, and so it helps us in that manner," he said.
And it helps sales, too. In this drought-plagued state, naturally landscaped homes sell for as much as golf-course properties. Developers now hire landscape architects who specialize in saving cactus.
At a recent plant show, the Cactus Rescue Crew could not have been happier. They sold nearly four tons of cactus to homeowners eager to adopt the rescued plants.
Next weekend, crew members will once again grab their shovels, put on their gloves, and haul their wheel-barrows out to the desert. Another developer wants to build a subdivision. The rescue continues.