Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"How an irked Northern California postal patron helped crack a global plant smuggling scheme"


the kidnapped plants — small, squat and cherished succulents called Dudleya farinosa –– once again are back in American soil. This week, volunteers returned more than 2,000 plants to their wild and windswept Northern California coastal cliffs. Hundreds more will stay in pots, tended by other volunteers, until autumn replanting.

“These plants belong to California. They’re ours,” said an undercover agent with the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife


But they fear that many more plants have vanished, still unnoticed. A thriving black market in Asia means the California native plant is vulnerable wherever it grows, they say, from Oregon to the Mexican border. One variety, found in Santa Clara County, is endangered; local naturalists won’t disclose its locations, to protect it.

Investigators suspect that organized smuggling rings, based in Asia, where the stolen plants fetch up to $50 a pop, are behind the crimes. An ascending Chinese middle class, whose millions can now afford decorative plant arrangements, is fueling demand.


The investigation was launched after an anonymous phone call in December to Patrick Freeling, a CDFW game warden known for his diligence.

The caller, frustrated at being stuck in a long line while trying to mail a package last December in Mendocino’s tiny post office, was suspicious.

A man in line ahead of her was shipping 60 packages to China.