(photo credit: KKL)
The giant fire in the Carmel forests, in which 44 people were killed and 35,000 dunams of forests and natural woodlands were burned, did not leave the public apathetic. Over the past few weeks, KKL-JNF has given work to over 3,000 volunteers who have come to the Carmel for forest work in order to assist nature in its arduous rehabilitation.
Groups of students, soldiers, company employees and Israeli families, along with missions from abroad, keep coming daily to work alongside the KKL-JNF foresters. Together they prune, saw, thin, clear and clean the burnt areas. The goal is to foster new seeds, to help the forest renew itself, to clear areas in order that future fires not spread, and to build recreation areas and picnic sites for the benefit of the public in place of those that went up in flames.
In the burnt areas, no work is being done at present, for the best way to rehabilitate the forest, experts say, is to let nature heal itself. Presence of people in these areas could cause ground blockage, which would hinder germination and development of new growth. People could also be harmed by collapsing trees.
Maayan Goodes, a KKL-JNF guide who works with the volunteers: "Working in the forest with the volunteers is very enjoyable. It feels like a mission. The volunteers are very motivated, because the Carmel catastrophe affected us all. Besides explaining and instructing, I can never resist joining them in the actual work.”
The day we went to the forest, there were four groups working there. We joined two groups - personnel from the Meditronik medical technology company of Herzliya, Yoqneam and Netanya, and Tnuva employees from Haifa. Their task was to restore the recreation area that was planted by friends of KKL-JNF Australia (the Zelman and Chana Cohen forest and the recreation area commemorating Asher Hacohen from Sydney).
Yehudit Gal, CEO of Meditronik Israel: “Our company develops products that save lives, but today we went out to save the forest and bring it back to life. Contributing to the community and to the environment is a central value in our company, and it is only natural that we would assist in making the Carmel green again. Our employees demonstrated a volunteering spirit and joined this initiative enthusiastically.”
The planned recreation area has two important purposes: to provide a picnic site for the many visitors that come to the Carmel instead of the many recreation areas that were destroyed by the fire, and to serve as a fire break that prevents the quick spreading of future forest fires.
On regular days, Ayana Hirt is the financial manager at Meditronik, but today she demonstrated impressive gardening skills. “Even if we make the smallest of contributions to the Carmel forest, it is already well worth it,” she said. “I grew up in Haifa, so the Carmel is part of my childhood scenery. I am proud to have this opportunity to participate in the rehabilitation of the forest.”
Dana Azoulay, another employee at the company, said that is was a wonderful feeling to get out of the office and work in nature. “Besides the contribution to the environment, working together helps consolidate our group socially.” Adi Singer, materials manager at Meditronik, added that forest work is very different from office work and is a very special and enjoyable way of taking a break from the routine.
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Yigal Arzuan, a Tnuva employee from Haifa, noted the great satisfaction one feels
working in the forest after the fire. “The forest is near our home, which makes our connection to it even stronger,” he said.
It turns out that besides the educational importance of connecting the public to the forest, the volunteer work does make an actual contribution, as Ala Pakhmawi, a KKL-JNF forester, explained: “The volunteers have tremendous motivation, and they work seriously and diligently. It moves me to see how these people, young and old, are coming to work in the forest.”
The rehabilitation of the forest is an especially meaningful experience for him, as he was one of the dedicated KKL-JNF firefighters who came from the Carmel region and from all over Israel and saw the fire destroying the trees. The KKL-JNF fire trucks were among the first to arrive at the fire, and KKL-JNF foresters fought the flames alongside the other firefighters and rescue forces.
“It tore me apart when I saw the forest going up in flames,” recalled Pachmawi. “We fought for each tree, trying to save it, and it was sad to see a green and stately tree turn into black charcoal. Today we are helping the forest renew itself, and this brings optimism back to people and the color green back to the Carmel.”
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