Without the active participation and inclusion of local communities in
forest-fire prevention activities, catastrophes like the blaze that overtook the
Carmel region in December 2010 are more likely to occur, both intentionally and
unintentionally, experts said Wednesday.
“The name of the game is risk
management, and we want to reduce the risk,” said Yeshayahu Bar-Or, deputy
director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry. “As long as there is
a forest, there is a risk for fire.”
Bar-Or was speaking at the second
day of a two-day conference in Nir Etzion called “Climate Change and Forest
Fires in the Mediterranean Basin: Management and Risk Reduction.”
first day focused on sharing scientific knowledge on the subject, and the second
day on transforming science into policy into practice.
Organized by the
Environmental Protection Ministry, along with Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel-Jewish
National Fund and the CIRCLE-2 Climate Impact Research and Response Coordination
for a Large Europe network, the conference brought in national and international
experts on fire prevention to discuss preemptive measures a fire-prone region
might take to minimize its dangers.
Ministry chief scientist and
conference organizer Dr. Sinaia Netanyahu said that such a conference was
crucial to the ministry’s ongoing research into adaptation to climate
“There is a lot of room for education about what should be done
to prevent unintended fires,” Bar-Or said, noting that only 50 percent of fires
are actually intentional.
Among the measures he said authorities must
take was the creation of fire buffer zones between nature reserves and villages,
including thinning out pine tree density and diversifying wildlife so fire could
not spread as easily.
Since the Carmel fire, for example, KKL-JNF has
invested a total of $7 million creating “fuel breaks” – buffer zones – between
forests and human civilization in 75 places throughout the country, according to
KKL-JNF head forester David Brand.
Meanwhile, experts agreed that by
encouraging local shepherds to continue their age-old trade, park officials
would have a ready-made cure for moderating woodland undergrowth and shrubbery,
which are often fuel for fire.
“There are fewer and fewer herds and
shepherds in this area, and the number is not sufficient to manage the area
efficiently,” Bar-Or said, stressing that the government must begin subsidizing
infrastructure, such as watering units, to make such grazing
Increased grazing, as well as continued maintenance of tree
density aligning roads and settlements, is vital to the area, agreed Hugh D.
Safford, a regional ecologist for the Pacific Southwest region for the United
States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service.
region, whose woodlands resemble those of Angeles National Forest in Southern
California, has a lot of fuel for fire, but requires ignition to set it off, and
this is often then propelled by uncontrollable easterly winds, Safford
Such areas are not ideal places for homes, villages and
cities, he said.
“But they often are [built there]– as you know the
entire city of Haifa is built in one of these ecosystems,” he
According to Bar-On, perhaps the most important tool for disaster
prevention is educating the public that makes use of the land – area
inhabitants, army units conducting firing exercises, and tourists making
campfires – on how to take part in protecting their forest.
very much in education and enforcement together. We have a lot to do in terms of
the education of the public at large, and the army in particular, in order to
prevent such fires,” he said.
Yehoshua Shkedy, chief scientist of the
Nature and Parks Authority, echoed Bar-On’s opinion, stressing that while
intense land management via cooperation among various governmental bodies was
important, the involvement of the local people was equally crucial.
we are not going to cooperate with the local communities the same way we are
cooperating among ourselves, and just come to them with papers telling them what
we want them to do, then this is going to fail,” Shkedy said. “We have to talk
the same way to the local people.”
But to Wajeh Kayouf, mayor of the
Druse village of Isifiya, the governmental authorities are still not taking the
local residents seriously and all too often look down on them.
after the fire, none of these organizations has understood and internalized that
people are important,” Kayouf said. “I am telling you on behalf of the residents
of the Carmel, we see the park as a resource, but we ask you – please stop
seeing us as a threat to the park.”
Kayouf recommended that a committee
be constructed with representation from all the government bodies, as well as
local representatives, to ensure the implementation of fire prevention and
environmental protection while preserving the cultural values of the local
To this suggestion, Shkedy responded that such a meeting
needed to be the initiative of the residents, who should invite everyone
“It’s your stage,” he said.
Kayouf praised an already
successful collaboration that has been taking place between his community and
the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Haifa District director, Shlomo Katz, to
help maintain Isifiya’s forest.
“We speak a lot with him and the
community because we think that they are the most important people who can
arrange the management of Mount Carmel,” Katz told The Jerusalem Post
between conference sessions. “They are living here, and we come from
The biggest problem for the local people now is that with the
existing nature reserves and creation of fire buffer zones, they have nowhere to
build their homes, he continued, adding that the authorities could not create a
model for the future while forgetting the community.
stressed that the authorities had in fact been taking pains to involve the local
residents in their plans, and had continually requested comments from them since
Green education and fire-prevention awareness have also begun
in Druse kindergartens and schools throughout the region, according to
“There is always room to close gaps and have more cooperation,”
Netanyahu told the Post
. “Even the process of education must be something [in
which] you develop the programs together with the community.”