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Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy Wins Bipartisan Support


Last updated 8/12/2019 at 1:13pm

Ten members of the United States House of Representatives signed a letter in support of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy’s (TCDC’s) multi-year project to discover a biocontrol agent that will be safe and effective in stopping the spread of Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii), one of the most destructive invasive weeds in the southwestern United States.

This congressional letter directs the leadership of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to dedicate sufficient funding and human resources to complete the biocontrol project during ARS’s upcoming 2020-2025 Action Plan.

San Diego Representative Susan Davis took the lead in circulating the letter among Democratic and Republican colleagues in the House whose districts are impacted by Sahara Mustard.

Representatives signing the letter were: Susan Davis (CA-53), Paul Cook (CA-8), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-2), Raul Grijalva (AZ-3), Katie Porter (CA-45), Duncan Hunter (CA-50), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Ruben Gallego (AZ-7), Greg Stanton (AZ-9), and Tom O’Halleran (AZ-1).

“Achieving congressional support for TCDC’s project was a distant dream in 2014 when we began what we knew would be at least a 10-year effort,” David Garmon, M.D., President of Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, said.

“Because Sahara Mustard’s destructive impact is being felt across the entire desert Southwest, we were joined in our effort to educate politicians about this ecosystem-level menace by dozens of organizations from around the region – State and National Parks, governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions.

We would not have been able to attain this milestone of a congressional letter without Letters of Support from all of these organizations along with their own outreach efforts to their individual representatives.” (Letters of Support may be read at (

In 2014 Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy published a White Paper ( outlining a scientific methodology for the discovery of a safe and effective biocontrol agent capable of stemming the spread of Sahara Mustard across the deserts of the American Southwest and northern Mexico.

Rather than using the traditional trial-and-error method, TCDC’s approach uses the latest genomic sequencing techniques to determine precisely where in Sahara Mustard’s extensive native range it would be most effective to search for natural biocontrol agents.

Potential biocontrol agents – the predators and / or pathogens against Sahara Mustard – from these precise locations would be the agents most likely to be safe and effective against the three genetically distinct populations of Sahara Mustard that were introduced into the U.S. during the 20th century.

The letter signed by House Representatives directs USDA scientists to travel to those precise locations around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East that were identified in the first two phases of the TCDC project.

In those specific locations where the Sahara Mustard now in the U.S. originated, scientists will identify the “natural enemies” of the three genetically distinct populations of Sahara Mustard that have invaded the U.S.

Once identified, candidate biocontrol agents will be subjected to several years of safety and efficacy testing in special USDA biocontainment laboratories in Europe. Promising candidates will eventually be brought to USDA biocontainment labs in the U.S. for further safety and efficacy testing prior to release into the environment.

“Because Sahara Mustard is spread over millions of acres across the deserts of the American Southwest, manual eradication or using herbicides could never rid us of this destructive weed, except in a few small, constantly surveilled, high-value areas. The only possible hope of addressing this ecosystem-level threat is with a biocontrol agent that can be safely released into the environment,” Robert Staehle, Vice President, TCDC, said. “

That is why our effort to find a biocontrol agent is critical to the ecological health of broad portions of the Southwest, particularly our vulnerable desert and coastal dune ecosystems.”

Lori Paul, TCDC Director added, “We are grateful for the generous support of so many friends and neighbors who have made this project possible. We would not be at the halfway point in this project without the original seed-funding generously provided by Audrey Steele Burnand and the support provided by the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund for recent congressional outreach efforts.”

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