Plant smugglers take ‘massive’ toll on California's Dudleya farinosa succulent species

On his belly in the bushes in a camouflage ghillie suit, California game warden Patrick Freeling came across a bulging backpack resting on a blufftop and knew he was onto something big.

In the preceding months, he had seen evidence of some illicit activity having to do with coastal succulents — a large shipment of boxes to Asia from the Mendocino post office; a man stealing plants from a Caltrans right-of-way.

But it was the expedition pack he discovered on the ground that March day last year near Point Arena that crystallized the caper in his mind. The sack was stuffed with native succulents called Dudleya farinosa that only grow along the Central and North Coast. Smugglers were coming to these shores to poach the plants and send them in bulk overseas for profit on the black market.

Investigators now believe several hundred thousands plants worth tens of millions of dollars on the Asian black market have been torn illegally from bluffs along the Northern California coast over the past several years, in some cases stripping whole areas of the plant species, said Adrian Foss, a captain with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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