"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

— Margaret Mead

 

"Don't wait for the cavalry to come over the hill to save you. You are the cavalry and had better save yourselves."

— Robert Lee Paul

Glyph of Sun

 

Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy

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Winter 2016-17

Rudyville Update

Rudyville (aka DS-24) is one of 41 active Property Specific Requests (PSRs) in San Diego County, each seeking approval from the County Board of Supervisors for proposed Amendments to the County’s General Plan. Most of the PSRs (including DS-24) seek increased housing density. In the case of Rudyville the request is to change the current General Plan designation of the entire 170-acre property from one house per 10 acres (SR-10) to one house per one acre (SR-1). A public hearing in Borrego Springs on April 7, 2016 convened by the Community Sponsor Group demonstrated broad and deep community opposition to the Rudyville Property Specific Request. No one in the overflow crowd of more than 160 citizens spoke in favor of the requested zoning change.

As a part of the process of evaluating any request to amend San Diego County’s General Plan, staff members from the Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) are required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to prepare a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) for all PSRs, including Rudyville. These county staff members, who were present at the April 2016 public hearing in Borrego Springs, have incorporated community feedback into their General Plan policy review, and the community feedback will also be reflected in the draft SEIR.

CEQA requires SEIRs evaluate a range of alternatives to the original PSR that would avoid or substantially lessen significant environmental effects of the original request. To accomplish this CEQA requirement, county staff has prepared such an Alternative for DS-24 that would re-designate only the 20 northeastern-most acres of Rudyville to SR-1 and leave the zoning for the remainder of Rudyville unchanged at SR-10 (See Map 1). This 20-acre Alternative was deemed to be less environmentally impactful because it is largely on top of the relic sand dune that runs through Rudyville and thus is mostly outside the 100-year flood plain (See Map 2). This Alternative is considered to be in “draft” form at this point in the process, and it is not a PDS staff recommendation for DS-24.

County staff anticipates finalizing all the Alternatives for each of the 41 PSRs, including Rudyville, by March 2017, allowing them to have the draft SEIR ready for public review/comment later in the spring of 2017. County staff will make known their formal recommendations on each of the PSRs in late summer or early fall of 2017.

Once finalized, the draft SEIR will represent “new information” in the amendment process; and, as such, it will be subject to public review. The Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group will have the option of holding another public meeting on Rudyville to consider and comment on this new information. It will also have another opportunity to pass an official recommendation on DS-24. Due to abstentions at the April 2016 hearing, the Community Sponsor Group did not have the required quorum to pass an official recommendation.

Public hearings at the county level on all the PSRs will begin with hearings before the County Planning Commission in the fall of 2017. The County Board of Supervisors appoints the seven members of this Commission. These hearings will be held at the County Operations Conference Center at 5520 Overland Avenue in San Diego. The date and time have not yet been determined.

The County Board of Supervisors, which will have the final word on these requests for amendments to the General Plan, is expected to take up the matter at the end of 2017. The Board of Supervisors will be provided information and recommendations from Community Planning Groups, Community Sponsor Groups, PDS staff, as well as from the County Planning Commission; however, individual supervisors are not constrained by any of these recommendations and are free to vote as they wish.

The public will have opportunity to provide further comment on Rudyville at the public hearings that will be scheduled in 2017. In the meantime, members of the public are welcome to contact Kevin Johnston, Land Use/Environmental Planner in the Department of Planning and Development Services, with comments or questions. He may be reached at kevin.johnston@sdcounty.ca.gov or (858) 694-3084.

Zoing Map

The 170-acre Rudyville (aka DS-24) property is outlined in red. Rudyville’s original Property Specific Request is to rezone the entire 170 acres from one house per ten acres to one house per one acre. The CEQA-required Alternative shown in the map would only rezone the 20 acres shown in yellow.

The 170-acre Rudyville property is outlined in dark blue. The white section running through the middle of Rudyville follows the general location of the relic sand dune, which is mostly above the 100-year Flood Plain.

Stay Connected:

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

Spring 2016

Borrego Unanimous in Opposition to Rudyville

On Thursday, April 7th, approximately 163 persons attended the meeting of the Community Sponsor Group held at the Borrego Springs High School. Staff from the San Diego County Department of Planning & Development Services attended this Public Hearing to receive public testimony regarding the “Rudyville” (aka Borrego County Club Estates, DS-24) Property Specific Request (PSR) for a General Plan Amendment (GPA) to increase the housing density of Rudyville from one house per 10 acres to one house per one acre.

Though most Sponsor Group meetings scheduled for weekday afternoons attract only a handful of attendees, there was standing room only in the High School’s Community Room on April 7th, with an overflow of attendees sitting on the floor and outside on the lawn. A show of hands at the beginning of the meeting revealed the attendees were unanimous in their opposition to Rudyville. No attendee spoke in support of Rudyville; and those attendees who did speak expressed passionate reasons for opposing an increase in housing density for Rudyville.

Staff members from the County’s Department of Planning and Development Services—Kevin Johnston, Land Use/Environmental Planner, and Noah Alvey, Planning Manager—were present at the meeting to brief the Sponsor Group and public about the Property Specific Request process, to hear comments from the public, and to answer questions. They reminded the crowd that in July 2012 the County Board of Supervisors directed County staff to analyze 43 Property Specific Requests (PSR’s) spread throughout San Diego County. Two of these PSR’s are located in Borrego Springs: one is Rudyville, DS-24; the other is DS-8, which is a large parcel between Borrego Springs Road and Di Giorgio Road, just west of the Roadrunner Club. Rudyville was by far the primary focus of concern and opposition at the April 7th meeting.

Several community organizations opposed to Rudyville advocated the preservation of the entire ocotillo forest, relict sand dune, and seasonal desert stream located on the Rudyville site.

Betsy Knaak, representing the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association (ABDNHA), noted the Rudyville parcel encompasses perhaps the oldest, most dense, and publicly accessible stand of ocotillos in the entire desert Southwest.

The Anza Borrego Foundation (ABF) and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park asserted that the Rudyville site provides an important buffer zone and wildlife habitat associated with the nearby state park.

The Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce emphasized the fact that there are already thousands of existing lots in Borrego Springs and that any future residential development should occur on disturbed, fallowed agricultural grounds, not pristine desert habitat.

Lori Paul, speaking on behalf of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy, revealed that a 2008 investigation of County records by Tubb Canyon residents discovered a massive flood control project concealed within Rudyville planning documents. At least 60% of the Rudyville site is located in a floodplain, necessitating the construction of a major concrete diversion dam, a debris basin, and flood control channels on neighbors' properties that would be taken by eminent domain. Construction of such a dam and flood channels would deprive adjacent properties, including State Park lands, of naturally occurring seasonal water flows and would increase the flow and alter the direction of flash floods across Borrego Springs Road.

Local residents would be forced to pay for the extensive flood diversion structures through a special “Geologic Hazard Assessment District” fee added to their property tax bills. It was noted that Rudy Monica failed to mention this dam and water diversion channel system during any of his original versions of the subdivision presented at past Sponsor Group meetings.

Several attendees noted Borrego Springs has had a surplus of vacant building sites and houses for sale over many decades, including in the vicinity of Rudyville. Additional graded lots would adversely impact the value of existing private properties by creating an even larger surplus of building sites in a small, economically challenged community.

Members of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group do not support the increase in zoning density for Rudyville; however, because two of the five members of the Sponsor Group recused themselves from a vote due to potential conflicts of interest, the Sponsor Group lacked a quorum and could not offer a formal decision to the San Diego County Planners. Members who recused themselves were: Tom Beltran, Sponsor Group Chairperson, who owns a home adjacent to the proposed Rudyville site; and Rebecca Falk, a realtor who stated she is currently involved in a property transaction associated with Rudy Monica, the lead promoter of Rudyville.

County planners will incorporate testimony from this Public Hearing as part of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) they were instructed to create by the County Board of Supervisors in July 2012. Planners expect this EIR will be completed at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017. Once completed, the EIR will represent “new information” and as such will be open…again…to Public Comment and review by the Community Sponsor Group.

Eventually the completed EIR will be presented to the San Diego County Planning Commission where there will be another Public Hearing, probably at the end of 2017. The Planning Commission will make a final recommendation to the Board of Supervisors who will have a final vote on the matter at the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018. Planners urged the community to send in their comments and to keep involved during each phase of this lengthy process.

Supporting Documents:

Stay Connected:

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Winter 2015

Public Hearing for “Rudyville” set for April 7, 2016

The Public Hearing for the “Rudyville” Property Specific Request (PSR) for a General Plan Amendment (GPA) will occur at a meeting of the Community Sponsor Group on April 7, 2016 at 4:30PM in the Community Room of the Borrego Springs High School. The owners of Rudyville are requesting the County amend its General Plan to increase allowable housing density of Rudyville from one house per 10 acres to one house per one acre.

Rudyville, aka Borrego Country Club Estates, aka (DS-24), is a 170-acre parcel northwest of the intersection of Borrego Springs Rd. and Country Club Rd. This parcel is located in the flood plain of Tubb Canyon and is home to an ancient ocotillo forest, a relic sand dune, and endangered species habitat. Burrowing owls are on the parcel. The owners of Rudyville intend to grade the sand dune, remove the ocotillo forest, and sell vacant lots. Scraping the desert in this high wind area would create serious particulate dust pollution for downwind residents.

This meeting of the Sponsor Group will be an important opportunity for all members of the community to provide public testimony about this request to change zoning. County Staff will be present to take testimony, as well as to present the staff’s analysis of the PSR and to answer questions. Kevin Johnston, Land Use/Environmental Planner, will be at the meeting and is available prior to the meeting to answer questions and/or provide background information to any interested person. He may be reached by phone at (858) 694-3084. Groundwater Geologist, Jim Bennet, and Planning Manager, Noah Alvey, will also be present.

Anyone interested in viewing the numerous public comment letters regarding Rudyville that were submitted during the comment period that ended February 4th may do so on the County’s website at http://bit.ly/1TPrl5F.

In June 2012 the County Board of Supervisors directed County staff to analyze 43 “Property Specific Requests” (PSRs) spread throughout San Diego County. Two of these PSR’s are located in Borrego Springs. One is Rudyville. The other is DS-8, which is a 170-acre parcel between Borrego Springs Road and Di Giorgio Road, just west of the Roadrunner Club community. Both Rudyville and DS-8 will be considered at the April 7th meeting.

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) views this zoning change request for Rudyville as a step toward unnecessary residential development of pristine desert habitat located miles from the village core. This development is within the scenic viewshed of the Tubb/Glorietta Canyon Bajada and the adjacent Anza Borrego Desert State Park, as seen from Crawford overlook, Montezuma Grade and many other areas. TCDC has enumerated its objections to this development in its public comment letter that may be viewed at http://bit.ly/1R4q70I. TCDC urges all members of the community who have an interest or concern regarding this development to attend this very important public hearing. This is the time to make your voice heard!

Supporting Documents:

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Fall 2015

A New Area of Advocacy

It has been a busy year at the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy. As you may recall, the end of 2014 found TCDC expanding its advocacy role beyond addressing the threat of Sahara Mustard. The new area of advocacy for TCDC is protecting desert habitat from becoming “sacrifice zones” for utility-scale renewable energy projects and the giant transmission lines that would connect those facilities to coastal urban centers far from the point of electrical generation. Massive renewable energy projects destroy fragile desert ecosystems; generate particulate air pollution where large areas of desert are cleared of vegetation for installations; consume precious groundwater resources (or utilize polluting water truck deliveries) for frequent cleaning of solar panels (required for optimal output), and adversely impact desert vistas.

Specifically, TCDC provided opposition to a state and federal project knows as the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) that proposed to cover 22.5 million acres in California and nearly 300,000 acres in eastern San Diego County. The DRECP would have “fast tracked” innumerable renewable energy projects in what many plan proponents consider to be the “vast, empty wastelands of the desert.” Despite years of delay, this 8000-page plan was ill-conceived. A fundamental problem with the plan was that it explicitly did not consider the possibility of siting renewable energy sources on existing urban rooftops close to where the electricity was needed. TCDC cast light on this deficiency in its November 2014 public comments to the California Independent Systems Operator (PDF).

In addition to submitting public comments, TCDC alerted the news media to our concerns about the DRECP:

TCDC also created an online petition pointing out this deficiency of the plan. The petition garnered nearly 1400 signatures before the public comment period ended on February 23, 2015. On February 26, 2015 I delivered these signatures to the heads of the federal and state agencies in Sacramento that were responsible for the DRECP and met with the Director of the DRECP and the Governor’s liaison to the DRECP to communicate our concerns. You may read more about this effort in the article that appeared in the Borrego Sun: “Taking Grassroots to the Capitol
TCDC was one of the thousands of strong voices that slowed the DRECP juggernaut. In the face of such opposition, the DRECP was forced to “regroup” and devise an alternative strategy. It is currently pursuing a “phased approach,” which unlike the DRECP, will allow more time for public consideration of the siting of utility scale renewable energy generating facilities.
The challenge of balancing our need for increased electricity generation from renewable sources with our need for preserving fragile desert ecosystems is far from over, but it is clear that our collective voices can have a powerful impact on this ongoing process. Thank you to those who have participated in attempts to defend fragile desert resources. Stay tuned for future developments and opportunities to take action!

AmeriCorps 2105

For the fourth year in a row, TCDC sponsored a team from AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). On January 9, TCDC, along with our partners at the Anza Borrego Foundation and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, received the AmeriCorps Silver 6 Team for their 10-week stay. This hard-working group of young people not only helped us remove highly invasive Sahara Mustard from those locations where it sprang up this year, they also created a community workshop to raise awareness about a new foreign invader, Canary Island Knapweed (Volutaria canariensis)
This year’s AmeriCorps team was instrumental in assisting TCDC and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) to produce the first meeting of the Biodiversity and Invasive Species Network (BISN) that was held at the Steele Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center on January 30, 2015.

Progress in the Fight Against Sahara Mustard

The last three years of drought have been difficult in California, including in the deserts. However, the drought has created conditions for a “natural experiment” with Sahara Mustard. For years we have had anecdotal information that the Sahara Mustard seed bank (seeds an annual plant leaves in the ground until the next growing season) has a “shelf life” of three years in the desert. This means if the seed bank is not replenished each and every year, most Sahara Mustard plants will be gone by the third year. Because the drought prevented Sahara Mustard from germinating and growing to any great extent over the last three years, we have been positioned to observe what would happen in places like the highly mustard-impacted wildflower fields of Henderson Canyon. Four years ago, wildflowers had almost disappeared into dense fields of Sahara Mustard; however, in the drought-stricken last 3 years, there have been far fewer mustard plants.
The results are in: this year, in the spring of 2015, wildflowers were back in Henderson Canyon and there was very little Sahara Mustard! By “very little,” there were perhaps 20-30 Sahara Mustard plants per acre as opposed to the thousands of plants per acre in the 2010-2011 growing season. These circumstances set the stage for this year’s AmeriCorps team to organize the largest volunteer effort to date to remove Sahara Mustard from the wildflower fields along Henderson Canyon Rd. It was called The Big Pull and covered hundreds of acres because of the relatively few Sahara Mustard plants per acre to be found this year.

Although confirmation of a “short shelf-life” for the Sahara Mustard seed bank in the ground is good news, it does not mean our work is done. If AmeriCorps and teams of community volunteers had not removed the few Sahara Mustard plants that were to be found in Henderson Canyon this year, those few plants would have germinated next season and produced enough seed to spawn a future bumper crop of Sahara Mustard the following year, given conducive conditions. Vigilance and removal of the Sahara Mustard plants that do pop up season to season continues to be essential if we are to rid selected areas of this invader and defend our perimeter into the future.

Despite this year’s good news about the natural limits of the Sahara Mustard seed bank, the long-term solution to the invasion of our deserts by this pernicious plant remains in the realm of finding a viable biocontrol agent. I am happy to report that our efforts in this direction are well underway. This year UCI graduate student, Daniel Winkler, traveled over 10,000 miles in the United States Southwest collecting over 2000 samples of Sahara Mustard as part of Phase I in a three-phase endeavor to locate a biocontrol agent. DNA has been extracted from the Sahara Mustard samples and is currently being sequenced. The data produced from the sequencing will enable us to determine where and approximately when (and perhaps how many times) Sahara Mustard was introduced into the USA.

For more information about this project, please read TCDC’s white paper, “Seeking Biocontrols to Enable a Long-term Solution for Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii) Invasion in North American Deserts” As we continue this project, we look forward to meeting with our colleagues from the USDA’s European Biologic Control Laboratory to plan for Phases II and III.

I am filled with gratitude for all the efforts made by so many people over the past year who have made all of the above progress possible. The list is long and includes our colleagues at the University of California, Irvine; the Anza-Borrego Foundation; Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, AmeriCorps NCCC; the Desert Protective Council; San Diego Natural History Museum; the USDA European Biologic Control Laboratory, and all of the generous TCDC board members, volunteers, and supporters.

Many thanks,
J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

Fall 2014

 

Anza-Borrego Desert Call to Action!

Back during the Sunrise Powerlink controversy there was a truck with a billboard outside the meeting hall that read, “SDG&E: Bringing you yesterday’s ideas today!” At the time I thought it was a clever twist on an old adage. After reading the recently published “draft” Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), I can’t think of a more appropriate tag line with the possible exception of “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

The DRECP (the Plan) has been 5 years in the making and is 8000 pages in length. The Plan covers 22.5 Million acres of Southern California, 268,000 acres of which are in San Diego County (See attached map) It is the work product of the US Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, the California Energy Commission, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Environmental supporters of the Plan include The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity. It is, of course, supported by the major utilities: Sempra, PG&E, and Southern California Edison. As diverse as the above agencies and organizations are, this is only a partial list. The entire list may be found at the DRECP website.

The intention behind the Plan is indisputably laudable: California will lead the nation in addressing climate change by developing substantial electrical generating capacity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal. On a hot summer day, California is projected to need 50,000 to 60,000 megawatts of generating capacity to meet demand. The Plan clears the way for 20,000 megawatts of that capacity to come from renewable sources in our deserts.

At first glance, what could make more sense than to harness the sun’s energy in the vast expanses of the desert Southwest? It is technologically possible to build utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal plants in the deserts and then transmit that energy back to the cities where it is needed. This is the model—large generating plants and long transmission lines—we have always used. It is tried and true. It keeps the lights on. Yes, in the past there may have been some environmental problems with coal-fired plants (CO2 emissions) or nuclear plants (spent fuel) and giant transmission lines, but “it’s for the common good,” so the reasoning has gone for decades. “The environmental sacrifices are worth it.”

Unfortunately, despite its good intentions, the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is a continuation of the old model of environmental degradation “for the greater good.” Specifically, the Plan paves the way for the construction of huge, utility-scale generating facilities that will be connected via giant transmission lines to cities hundreds of miles away. There will be environmental damage to literally millions of acres within the Plan’s boundaries. There will be the unintended consequences of dust storms arising from scraped desert landscapes, the use of more ground water than originally planned, and the inadvertent “taking” of endangered species and other wildlife. But, as the thinking of the Plan goes, “It will be worth it.”

The good news is there is a new paradigm: an alternative to the course charted by the Plan. The new paradigm is called in-basin, distributed generation, aka rooftop solar. In the five years it has taken to create the “draft” DRECP there have been significant advances made in rooftop solar technology. Prices have decreased and efficiencies have increased. This past July, UCLA’s Luskin Center published a report estimating the amount of generating capacity that could come from rooftop solar just in the Los Angeles area alone is over 19,000 megawatts. Although the Luskin Report did not estimate the generating capacity that exists on roofs in San Diego County, it is reasonable to conclude there would be much more than 1000 megawatts of rooftop capacity in San Diego, thereby equaling, and easily exceeding, the generating capacity goal of 20,000 megawatts of the DRECP.

The chief advantages rooftop solar are: 1) it would eliminate the need to “sacrifice” millions of acres of desert habitat to build “utility-scale” generating plants, 2) because it generates electricity where it is used, rooftop solar would eliminate the need for giant transmission lines that lose electricity every mile along their lengths, 3) rooftop solar would eliminate the unintended consequences associated with utility-scale generating plants sited in the desert that we are only now beginning to learn about such as dust storms arising from scraped desert habitat, utilization of excessive amounts of ground water, and the inevitable “taking” of endangered species and other wildlife as is occurring at Ivanpah.

The DRECP dismisses rooftop solar by putting it in a category called “Alternatives Considered but not carried forward for Detailed Analysis.” The reason given for not doing a detailed analysis of rooftop solar is because doing so would not “provide a streamlined process for the development of utility-scale renewable energy…” (Vol. II, Section 8, Page 9). Thus, the Plan rejects rooftop solar from consideration not because of technical problems, not because of cost, not because it could not meet electrical generation goals, but because it would not lead to the creation of utility-scale production facilities. This rationale implies that anything that does not result in the creation of utility-scale generation facilities is in actuality not an alternative at all.

If you see problems with that logic, try this one: another reason for rejecting in-basin, distributed generation (rooftop solar) is because doing so would not “conserve biological, physical, cultural, social, and scenic values” because it “would not identify and incorporate public lands managed for conservation purposes…” Additionally, the rooftop solar alternative would not “provide for the long-term conservation and management of Covered Species.” (Vol. II, Section 8, Page 9). The perverse rationale implied by the above reasoning is that we cannot pursue conservation goals unless we are simultaneously “sacrificing” millions of acres of desert habitat.

Our friends at the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, etc. have valiantly tried to make the best of a difficult situation—that difficult situation being that it was a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the process 5 years ago that millions of acres of desert habitat would be sacrificed for utility-scale generation facilities. Our friends have tried to conserve what they could, but they bought the embedded assumption that utility-scale plants in the desert were inevitable. They drank the Kool-aid.

One unfortunate outcome of the efforts of our environmentalist friends is that politicians and agency bureaucrats can now say, “The environmental community is really behind this Plan.” And they do say it. Often.

The only thing now standing in the way of the “draft” DRECP becoming our lived reality is you. The Plan was published at the end of September and is taking public comment through January 9, 2015. Without significant input from the public, from you, this juggernaut will proceed relentlessly, sacrificing millions of acres of desert habitat, wasting precious groundwater, degrading air quality, and “taking” endangered species and other wildlife.

You can make known your concerns about the Plan by going to the website (www.drecp.org) and click on “How to Comment” on the Home Page. There are many aspects of the Plan that are worthy of comment, and among them are:

State and federal agencies have made their views known in this Plan. So have the utilities and the large conservation organizations. Now it is your turn.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Summer 2014

 

Sahara Mustard Update

It is Labor Day and the temperatures in Borrego Valley remain in the triple digits. During July and August, the monsoonal pattern of afternoon thunderstorms visited the Anza-Borrego Desert and surrounding mountains, causing sporadic local flooding. Fortunately, the temperatures have been too high for the moisture to trigger germination of invasive Sahara Mustard (Brassica tournefortii). The same cannot be said for the biting valley black gnats that have once again made their presence felt in the desert. Ouch!

The last three years have set the stage for a vast experiment involving Sahara Mustard. If you have been reading these updates, you will remember the anecdotal reports of the Sahara Mustard seed bank being particularly short-lived. Specifically, numerous reports have indicated that in areas where Sahara Mustard was not allowed to replenish its seed bank for three consecutive years, the species was effectively eliminated from that area.

The last year in which Sahara Mustard had a banner year was the 2010-2011 growing season. The picture below taken in 2010 along Henderson Canyon Road attests to Sahara Mustard’s profusion and its devastation of the native wildflower fields that year. Since then, however, lack of moisture and high temperatures have conspired to prevent Sahara Mustard from germinating in the vast numbers that it did in 2010-2011. The wildflower fields along Henderson Canyon Road have not seen a profusion of Sahara Mustard for the last three years. Nor have they seen a wildflower bloom, for that matter, also due drought conditions and high temperatures.

BEFORE:

Wildflowers along Henderson Cyn Road

 

The 2008 wildflower bloom along Henderson Canyon Road in the
Anza-Borrego Desert before take-over by Sahara Mustard.

AFTER:

Sahara Mustard infested the wildflower fields in 2010

 

Same location a mere 2 years later after Sahara Mustard infested the
wildflower fields in 2010. Note the dying creosote bushes.
Photo courtesy of Ron Neibrugge www.wildnatureimages.com

This is not to say that Sahara Mustard has been eliminated from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There are numerous areas, particularly in the south end of the park, where temperature and moisture was sufficient to allow the germination and growth of Sahara Mustard plants. Additionally, scattered Sahara Mustard was found this year in Coyote Canyon, Sentenac Canyon, and Henderson Canyon just north of de Anza.

The good news is that the numbers of Sahara Mustard plants have been relatively small this year; and many (most?) of those plants were removed by volunteers and our AmeriCorps team before they could produce seeds, thus setting the stage for the current grand experiment.

If our hypothesis is correct—that the Sahara Mustard seed bank becomes depleted after three years of not being replenished by seed production—and if moisture and temperature are conducive to wildflowers (as well as to Sahara Mustard which appears to need very similar conditions), we would expect to see a fantastic display of native wildflowers this spring along Henderson Canyon Road. Let us cross our collective fingers.

If our three-year hypothesis is not correct, and we see Sahara Mustard springing up in vast numbers along Henderson Canyon Road after three years of not replenishing its seed bank, then the critical importance of our nascent biocontrol effort will be underscored. More regarding the biocontrol effort will be included in the next update.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

Summer 2014

 

500 kV Transmission Lines Threaten
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Given TCDC’s focus on Sahara Mustard during the last three years, many may be surprised to learn that the idea of creating TCDC grew out of the battle to stop Sunrise Powerlink. Neighbors in the Tubb Canyon area came to believe the growing number of challenges involved in defending the community and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park from significant damage—whether from an invasive species or from human- generated projects such as the Sunrise Powerlink and the Ocotillo Wind Farm—far exceeded what any individual could do alone. TCDC was subsequently created as a vehicle for focusing the efforts and energies of all members of the Anza-Borrego Desert community who are interested in preserving the environment and quality of life that draw so many to the region, as tourists, residents, snow birders and retirees.

As most know, TCDC’s efforts to date have been focused on addressing the ecological disaster caused by Sahara Mustard—a threat to the great biodiversity of our region, as well as a threat to tourism and to the local economy. However, today there is yet another assault on the horizon similar to the threat that initially founded TCDC.

The closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has, according to the California Energy Commission, created a “critical need” for new 500 kV transmission lines in southern California. As a result, the California Energy Commission tapped Aspen Environmental (the same consultants who worked on the Sunrise Powerlink) to create a Feasibility Analysis of new, 500 kV transmission lines through our region. One of the proposed lines goes right through the heart of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

This Feasibility Analysis was published in May 2014. You may read it in its entirety by clicking here.

It is a lengthy document, but we recommend that you pay special attention to pages 46-50 that describe Alternative 5, that would route 500 kV transmission lines in the State Park. The Analysis acknowledges that placing 500 kV towers through the Park would be a “very challenging” route, but deems placing the lines underground as merely “challenging.”

TCDC believes that running 500 kV lines through the heart of the State Park, whether overhead or underground, will compromise the integrity of the Park, an incredible asset placed in the public trust. The Analysis itself notes that if such a transmission line were constructed there would be loss of view shed in and around scenic regions and designated wilderness areas, negative impacts on big horn sheep and other “sensitive” species, construction noise and traffic, and “corona noise” in remote and quiet areas.

TCDC will be opposing as vigorously as possible, and as early as possible, the siting of 500 kV transmission lines through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. If you are interested in participating in this opposition, please add your name and email address to the TCDC listserve to receive the latest information. As always, your financial support of this effort can be made online.

Together we can make a difference. We have done it before and we can do it again.

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

SPRING 2014

The AmeriCorps Silver 6 Team has arrived in Borrego Valley and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP); it must be springtime!

Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy and our co-sponsor, the Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF), are pleased to host a National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) AmeriCorps team for the third year in a row. AmeriCorps Silver 6 Team is comprised of seven exceptional young persons, ages 18-24. They left their headquarters in Sacramento, California, on January 15th, arriving in Borrego Springs the next day.

On Friday, January 17th the team attended orientation about the Anza-Borrego Desert and projects they will be working on for the two months they are with us. ABDSP Ranger Steve Bier instructed the team in desert safety, and Larry Hendrickson introduced the team to three invasive species of concern in and around the state park, including Sahara Mustard. The team was treated to the now "traditional" lunch at Calico's, followed by a "hands-on" introduction to desert flora, including invasive species such as Sahara Mustard and fountain grass. Orientation day ended with a get together and delicious dinner for the team and hosts at the de Anza Country Club. Welcome Silver 6!

Given the extensive flooding of August and September 2013, there was reason to believe this year might yield an abundant crop of Sahara Mustard, comparable to the 2010-2011 season, particularly within flash flood washes and inundated flood plains. Fortunately, the temperatures last fall were too high to promote mustard germination; and now, four months later, there is insufficient moisture for a "bumper crop" of mustard. This constellation of circumstances puts us in a very interesting position, as this could be the third consecutive season in which Sahara Mustard fails to replenish or advance its seed bank.

Although the rigorous scientific studies have not yet been done, available anecdotal information indicates the Sahara Mustard seed bank degrades dramatically in the space of three years. This relatively short "shelf life" of Sahara Mustard seeds contrasts greatly with the seeds of native winter annual wildflowers and some short-lived perennial plants that have been shown to remain viable in the ground for decades. Perhaps weather is setting the stage for a collapse of the Sahara Mustard seed bank and the return of our beautiful winter and spring wildflowers. Time and weather will tell.

So far this spring, there is little in the way of Sahara Mustard to be found across Borrego Valley or the state park. There have been sightings of mature, healthy mustard plants in all of the main desert washes in Borrego Valley (outflows of Coyote, Glorietta, Palm, and Tubb canyons), but the number of plants is minimal compared to the bumper crop of the 2010-2011 season. There has yet to be a sighting of Sahara Mustard in the open desert where there has been little or no rainfall or abundant flood water.

All of the above is good news to those of us working for the demise of Sahara Mustard. The few Sahara Mustard plants in the valley are directly in the sights of AmeriCorps' Silver 6 Team and the many volunteers monitoring the washes and "all the usual places." If the current dry conditions continue, Sahara Mustard will not be able to produce a massive seed distribution again this season, raising the possibility of a dramatic, multi-season depletion of its seed bank.

If we are lucky in the sense that Sahara Mustard is unable to replenish its seed bank in this third, and hopefully critical, year, the war will not be won; but we will be in a vastly improved position to remove subsequent plants that will appear in future years. It will be like turning the clock back... five years?... ten years?...to that time when this invasive plant could be numbered in the thousands instead of the millions. We have demonstrated we have the resources to deal with the thousands. It is the millions that present a tougher challenge.

We remain grateful for your support of TCDC's efforts. Together, we have made a difference. We will continue our work to restore the wildflower fields and protect the irreplaceable Anza-Borrego Desert.

Stay tuned,

J. David Garmon, MD
President, TCDC

 

SUMMER / Fall 2013

Although it looked for a while as if the 2012-2013 Sahara Mustard growing season would replicate the explosion of invasive mustard we saw in the Borrego Valley during the 2010-2011 season, the threatened profusion of Sahara mustard did not materialize this past spring. We dodged another bullet!

The lack of timely rain and high temperatures were not to the liking of germinating Sahara mustard, or to the liking of most native wildflowers for that matter. The Sahara Mustard plants that did sprout were few and far between, generally very small, and produced few seeds. By germinating earlier than most native plants, the Sahara Mustard seedlings caught the brunt of the adverse conditions.

For those locations in the valley where Sahara Mustard did germinate, AmeriCorps Blue 6 team, under the leadership of TCDC and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, moved in to eradicate those plants. The areas producing the most Sahara mustard this year tended to be in the natural arroyos and canyon drainages (e.g. Tubb Canyon Wash, Palm Canyon Wash, Plum Canyon Wash, etc.) and along the shoulders of some roads such as S-22. You can see some of the locations the Blue 6 team worked by clicking on the TCDC Mustard Map.

The AmeriCorps Blue 6 team arrived in Borrego Springs on April 2nd and set up camp in Mongolian yurts located in Palm Canyon Campground. Not to be outdone by their predecessor team from last year, Silver 5 team, the members of Blue 6 also encountered hurricane force winds within the first week of their arrival. During the night, Blue 6 team watched 90+ mph winds take down the three yurts that had survived last year’s winds. Fortunately the three newer, reinforced yurts where the team was staying survived this year’s winds. Blue 6 team departed Borrego Springs on May 24th after a farewell dinner, having made a huge dent in the population of Sahara Mustard plants that had germinated in the areas where they worked. Read about the remarkable members of Blue 6 and their adventures in the Borrego Valley on the AmeriCorps Team 2013 News page.

In early July TCDC received notice that it had been selected as the 2013 AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) Pacific Region Sponsor of the Year. This was a totally unexpected and special honor. At the AmeriCorps NCCC Pacific Region graduation ceremony on July 23rd in Sacramento I had the pleasure of receiving the award on behalf of TCDC, the Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF), and the folks in the Borrego Springs community who had contributed so generously of their time and effort to make the program a success.

Even though summer is ending in most parts of the country, the temperatures remain in the triple digits in the Anza-Borrego Desert. The monsoonal rains and associated flash floods of August have begun, and it is not clear what ground moisture this early in the 2013-2014 season might do vis-à-vis Sahara Mustard. There are reports in the literature of Sahara Mustard germinating after autumn rains and along flash flood channels. If that were to happen however, the nascent plants may not survive subsequent high temperatures. What we observed in May of this year is that triple digit temperatures are often fatal for young Sahara Mustard plants long before they are able to produce seeds. Timing is everything. We have observed that the desert can prove inhospitable even to Sahara Mustard!

During the end-of-summer quiet time, TCDC is gearing up for the next growing season, 2013-2014. Again in partnership with ABF,we hope to sponsor another team from AmeriCorps during the January – March timeframe. We continue to forge relationships with friends and colleagues at the University of California, Cooperative Extension; the University of California, Irvine; and the Steele / Burnand Desert Research Center. And, while we continue to focus on our “ground game” of removing Sahara Mustard from specific areas of public and private lands in the Borrego Valley, TCDC remains eager to explore and support the much larger goal of discovering methods for eradication of Sahara Mustard across the entire desert Southwest.

What can you do?

Use the TCDC website to learn how to recognize Sahara Mustard in its various stages of development. Teach one friend what you have learned about Sahara Mustard, and ask that friend to teach one more. Ask everyone who has learned about Sahara Mustard to “adopt” a patch of land somewhere in the valley. Your patch can be along a roadway, in a neighborhood, or at a church or school. Once you have adopted your patch, go to the TCDC website and put it on the Mustard Map so others can begin to coordinate their efforts with you. In this way we can begin to develop a volunteer patchwork of eradication projects throughout the valley.

Preliminary research from the University of California, Cooperative Extension indicates that if Sahara Mustard plants in an infested area can be prevented from producing seeds for three consecutive seasons, the seed bank in that area becomes depleted and that area is essentially free of Sahara Mustard. Although we may not yet have enough “mustard busters” to cover the entire Borrego Valley, there are already hundreds working toward this goal. I hope you will join this effort in any way you can.

I remain grateful for your support of TCDC's efforts. Together, we are making a difference.

Many thanks,

J. David Garmon, M.D.
President, TCDC

Spring 2013

Sahara Mustard sprung up in the last few weeks of February across the Borrego Valley! The spring of 2011 saw an explosion of Sahara Mustard throughout the valley. In the spring of 2012 we essentially got a free pass due to arid conditions. No such luck this year, and depending on rainfall and temperatures in the next couple of weeks, we could see a repeat of 2011.

Given that Sahara Mustard seeds are spread largely by human activity it is no surprise that seedlings can be seen springing up along the shoulders of most roads and pathways, including Borrego Springs Road, Henderson Canyon Road, DiGiorgio Road, and Borrego Valley Road. Sahara Mustard’s preference for sprouting in “disturbed soils” explains its appearance on the shoulders of roads and also in washes such as Borrego Palm Canyon and Coyote Canyon.

For now, the best response to keep Sahara Mustard from invading even more desert habitat is to pull it before it has time to produce seeds. This means pulling it out of the ground while it is still just a rosette of 5 or 6 leaves or even after it has raised a central stalk and has begun to flower. In these early stages of development Sahara Mustard can be easily pulled out of the ground, the taproot broken off, and the remains left on the desert floor. Each plant destroyed in this fashion represents up to 15,000 seeds that will never come into existence to spread across the wildflower fields.

Later in the season, after the plant has flowered, produced seed pods, and the seeds have ripened to a scarlet red, it is still useful to remove Sahara Mustard. When such mature plants are pulled out of the ground they must be carefully placed in heavy duty plastic bags for disposal, taking care not to spread pods or seeds around in the process of pulling, bagging, and disposing.

What can you do?

Use the TCDC website to learn how to recognize Sahara Mustard in its various stages of development. Teach one friend what you have learned about Sahara Mustard, and ask that friend to teach one more. Ask everyone who has learned about Sahara Mustard to “adopt” a patch of land somewhere in the valley. Your patch can be along a roadway, in a neighborhood, or at a church or school. Once you have adopted your patch, go to the TCDC website and put it on the Mustard Map so others can begin to coordinate their efforts with you. In this way we can begin to develop a volunteer patchwork of eradication projects throughout the valley.

Preliminary research from the University of California, Cooperative Extension indicates that if Sahara Mustard plants in an infested area can be prevented from producing seeds for three consecutive seasons, the seed bank in that area becomes depleted and that area is essentially free of Sahara Mustard. Although we may not yet have enough “mustard busters” to cover the entire Borrego Valley, there are already hundreds working toward this goal. I hope you will join this effort in any way you can.

The survival of the Anza-Borrego Desert’s wildflowers and wildlife depend upon all of us.

Many thanks,

J. David Garmon, M.D.
President, TCDC

Fall 2012

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) quietly celebrated its first birthday this summer—June 6th. As with all newborns, TCDC was busy in its first year—learning to take its first few steps and utter its first words. I hope you will bear with this proud parent as I describe some of the developmental milestones TCDC achieved in its first year.

TCDC was organized by Tubb Canyon Bajada neighbors and conceived as an organization that would allow individuals, families, foundations, service organizations, etc. to coordinate and focus their efforts to meet the threat posed by Sahara Mustard to the Borrego Valley and, by its efforts in the Anza-Borrego Desert, help stop this highly destructive species across the entire desert Southwest. To fulfill its mission, TCDC has developed three main areas of focus: education, research, and the eradication of Sahara Mustard. The following paragraphs describe TCDC’s first steps in each of these areas.

Beginning with education, in September 2012 TCDC launched the most comprehensive, informative website on the Internet dedicated to the issue of Sahara Mustard (www.tubbcanyondesertconservancy.org). When you navigate to the Sahara Mustard tab you will find more information about Sahara Mustard than perhaps you ever wanted to know—descriptions and pictures of Sahara Mustard in its various stages of development, as well links to the most recent academic research. If you tire of learning about Sahara Mustard, you can navigate to the Desert Gallery tab for stunning photos of desert landscapes, wildflowers, and wildlife that illustrates the natural beauty and biodiversity TCDC is striving to protect for future generations. TCDC’s website has been lovingly designed by board member Lori Paul and webmaster Jeffrey George, both of whom have dedicated countless hours to its nourishment and well-being.With regard to research, TCDC was able to provide a grant to researchers at the University of California, Cooperative Extension to investigate best practices for the eradication of Sahara Mustard. This research was scheduled to occur in the 2011-2012 growing season; but because winter annuals, of which Sahara Mustard is one, did not germinate and grow in sufficient enough numbers this past spring, the research was postponed until the 2012-2013 growing season.

As a prelude to future research TCDC has, in its first year, developed a web-based application for smartphones that allows “citizen scientists” to map their sectors of the Borrego Valley with information about the presence or absence of Sahara Mustard. You may find this tool at Mustard Map App. Anyone with a smart phone can now report the status of any particular area with regard to Sahara Mustard. They can describe whether or not mustard has been removed and whether or not the area will be monitored for the appearance of mustard in the future. The results of the data collected by citizens can be viewed on TCDC’s Mustard Tracking Map.

And finally, with regard to eradication of Sahara Mustard, last fall TCDC applied for, and was selected to receive, an AmeriCorps team to assist with the physical eradication of mustard. You can read about the individuals of this team and their adventures in the Borrego Valley on the AmeriCorps section of the News pages on this website. The ten members of this team were able to clear 75 acres of Sahara Mustard in those few areas of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park where mustard did sprout this past spring. Moreover, this fantastic group of young people took TCDC’s information about Sahara Mustard into the local community, directly meeting with over 10% of the residents of Borrego Springs. As a result of these meetings, eight ongoing, community-led eradication programs were established, covering nearly 2000 acres in and around Borrego Springs. You can see the location of these projects if you check out the TCDC Mustard Tracking Map
under the Sahara Mustard tab.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a whole community to grow and develop a successful non-profit conservancy such as TCDC. In its first year TCDC reached out to the community, and the community reached back with incredible generosity and care. The generosity has taken many forms, ranging from direct financial support of individuals and foundations to the many businesses and organizations in Borrego Springs who have supported our efforts with in-kind donations. You can see the names of many of TCDC’s early supporters if you navigate to the Supporters page.

Without the generosity of friends, neighbors and other organizations, TCDC would not have survived its first year; but with such generosity and support TCDC is thriving and is entering its second year with even greater hopes and aspirations. The Board of TCDC is profoundly grateful for the encouragement and participation by friends and neighbors in the Anza-Borrego Desert community who have made this first year of TCDC’s existence possible and more successful than we dared to dream.

TCDC is not resting on its first year laurels… or on the bags of Sahara Mustard we have pulled! We look forward to more productive efforts to eradicate invasive mustard and protect the fragile desert during the next growing season. Stay tuned for news regarding future AmeriCorps and other significant partnerships; opportunities for involvement in Sahara Mustard mapping, removal and “citizen scientist” data collection; TCDC participation in relevant symposia; and expanded education, research and mustard eradication projects. We encourage you to be a part of the time-critical fight against the invasion of Sahara Mustard.

The TCDC website stands ready to provide you with broad spectrum of information, ideas, tools and ways to help. Together we can stop Sahara Mustard and assure that desert wildflowers will continue to bloom for our enjoyment and that of future generations.

Yours in gratitude,

J. David Garmon, M.D.
President, TCDC

 

Winter 2011

Neighbors of Tubb Canyon are pleased to announce the creation of the Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy!

This non-profit conservancy was born out of the recognition that we needed to organize to protect the desert we love. A primary goal is to establish and maintain a defensive perimeter against invasive, foreign Sahara Mustard. In other parts of the Anza-Borrego Desert, this aggressive plant has recently wiped out hundreds of acres of native wildflowers, shrubs, cacti and the animals that depend on that native vegetation.

The Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC) will conduct direct Sahara Mustard removal in an ecologically responsible manner. TCDC will also be an educational resource in the battle against Sahara Mustard, and will support research into methods of eradication. Based on our field experience, the Conservancy will refine a model for successfully defending native flora and fauna from Sahara Mustard in and around the Tubb Canyon area, intending that this model may be exported to other areas of the Borrego Valley and the greater Sonoran Desert.

Please join us in actively fighting the invasive Sahara Mustard that threatens to bring a real "Silent Spring" to the Anza-Borrego Desert and other deserts of the Southwest. Sahara Mustard quickly multiplies to overshadow, poison, and rob water from the wildflower fields that bring so many visitors from around the world to this region. Eventually, Sahara Mustard can kill even tough creosote, cholla and barrel cacti, literally taking over the desert and turning it into a mustard wasteland devoid of the biodiversity needed to sustain desert wildlife, from butterflies to lizards, pocket mice to owls, hummingbirds to bobcats, roadrunners, quail, and all the others. Without the wildflowers, shrubs and cacti in our landscape, there will be no bird songs, no chorus of frogs on spring nights... and no human visitors... in a decimated ecosystem.

This does not need to be the fate of the Anza-Borrego Desert! Those of us in the vicinity of Tubb Canyon organized ourselves, volunteers and workers during early 2011 to pull mustard from well over 100 acres of open desert, including the State Park south of Tubb Canyon Road. We intend to hold this perimeter and expand the regions now free of Sahara Mustard by additional "mustard busting" sessions each growing season. Over time, less and less maintenance pulling will be necessary to keep our desert free of this botanical scourge.

There is no magic herbicide or technique that will stop the spread of Sahara Mustard. Ignoring its spread will only result in disaster. Currently, the most effective method of eradicating the weed's "seed bank" over time is by hand-pulling mustard plants from among our native desert flowers and cacti. It seems an overwhelming task, but it is not hard to do. Children can help. Neighbors can help. Volunteers and teams of workers can help. Many hands pulling mustard makes for light, and effective, work. We have cleared much of the Tubb Canyon Bajada in just a few weekends and we will continue to clear and defend the rest of our land.

We encourage everyone to do the same. Defend and restore the Anza-Borrego Desert! Join our cadre of "Mustard Busters," clear around your own home, hotel, or favorite patches of wildflowers. Every single mustard plant pulled is one more plant that will not produce thousands of tiny red seeds. We can help the Sonoran Desert survive; however, we must begin this winter and continue into next spring, before it becomes too late and mustard seeds beget thousands more mustard plants.

There are many ways you can help: Learn about Sahara Mustard, how it reproduces, what it looks like, where it grows, and how to pull it properly. Adopt a block in town or a stretch of favorite roadside, then report your observations and project on TCDC's Mustard Map App. Donate to TCDC, so that we can fund research into mustard eradication and support hard-working crews to clear the desert. Your contributions to TCDC are tax-deductible..

The State Park cannot stop mustard alone. There is no government agency who will rescue the desert. The time has come for all of us to work together to save the Anza-Borrego Desert... before it is too late.

David Garmon, President & Co-founder Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy

 

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