Afforestation in Israel

an ancient land with new ideas for reclaiming ecosystem services and combating desertification

November 28, 2011 12:20

Humans have lived in all regions of Israel, including the semi-arid and arid ones, since before Biblical times, with varying degrees of success. Some societies succeeded in developing very effective water-management systems and sustained prosperous economies even under relatively harsh climatic conditions. However, in the last hundred years, human activities and overexploitations of natural resources have driven the land toward desolation, producing severe land degradation, erosion, and salination.

Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has embraced issues of sustainable land management and has adopted public policies designed to restore, develop, and manage its natural resources. About 240 million trees have been planted, particularly in the Mediterranean and semi-arid regions. Regulations have been introduced to control grazing and ensure effective water management. Due to these activities, Israel is one of the few countries in the world that has more trees now than it had a century ago.
After the first "pioneering" stage of afforestation in Israel, which was initiated at the beginning of the 20th century the Israeli Forest Service, KKL (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael), updated a forest management policy, which includes actions encouraging the adoption of sustainable forest-management practices  of the local planted forests. In 1995 the Israeli Government ratified the National Master Plan No. 22: Forests and Forestry (NMP 22). Approval of this plan expanded KKL jurisdiction to areas beyond those of the planted forests. This plan gave a statutory status to 8% of Israel's land, ensuring its continued existence for future generations.
The plan designates 160,000 hectares (ha) of existing and proposed forestlands, covering approximately 7.3% of Israel’s land surface (22,000 km2). Five categories of forest type were assigned by the plan and are as follows: planted forest (65,900 ha. - 41%); natural forest (60,000 ha - 37%); park forest (26,600 ha - 17%); coastal park forest (4,200 ha - 3%); and, riparian plantings (3,900 ha - 2%). These forestlands are distributed through the country as follows: 59% in the northern and central regions (Mediterranean region) and 41% in the southern region (semi-arid region).
Similar to many other countries around the world, climate change is affecting Israel’s natural resources. Following many applied studies related to Israel semi-arid and arid zones, KKL developed advanced methods to harvest runoff water for the benefit of the trees planted in these areas. Advanced studies carried out in KKL forests in the semi-arid region demonstrated that the carbon sequestration rate in these forests is similar to that recorded in temperate forests in central Europe. These findings underscore the importance of establishing forests in semi-arid zones to reduce the greenhouse effect. KKL policy is to share with countries all over the world the vast experience and an advanced know-how in afforestation and reforestation practices in semi-arid regions.
KKL forestry operations focus on four main areas:

a.    Afforestation and reforestation in Mediterranean and semi-arid zones
b.    Ecosystem goods and services from planted forests
c.    Community forests
d.    International cooperation and capacity building

Afforestation and reforestation in Mediterranean and semi-arid zones

One of the distinguishing marks of Israel is its manifoldness due to its extraordinary geographic position. It is situated on the crossroads of three continents, Asia, Africa, and Europe, as well as along two seas: the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Israel is thus influenced by the most diverse climate factors. Israel is divided into three phytogeography (geobotany) regions: the Mediterranean region, the Irano-Turanian region (semi-arid) and the Saharo-Sindi region (arid). One of the distinctive features of the Mediterranean region is a yearly average rainfall of over 400 mm, which in the North may reach 1000 mm and even more. The mean annual temperature is 190C. This area is characterized by natural Mediterranean oak trees, pistachio, Aleppo pine and carob. The Irano-Turanian region extends from the Beersheba district in the Northern Negev to the high elevations of the Negev Mountains. The average rainfall in this region ranges from 150 to 400 mm and the mean annual temperature is 20-230C. Isolated pistachio (Pistacia atlantica) and Christ's thorn desert (Zizyphus spina-christi) are representative of the vegetation natural of the Irano-Turanian region. The Saharo-Sindic region contains practically the whole remaining territory, extending in the south up to the Red Sea and includes also the southern part of the Jordan Rift. The average annual rainfall variesin this region from 25 to 150 mm and the mean annual temperature is 250C. The tamarisks (Tamarix spp.) growing sporadically or in groups in the sandy and partly salty soil and Acacia spp. in oasis and wadis are representatives of the vegetation natural in the Saharo-Sindic region.

Afforestation and reforestation in the Mediterranean region
The first generation of the afforestation project in the Mediterranean region was mainly based on pure, even-aged Aleppo pine forests, which were established on hills and mountains. Allepo pine was later replaced by brutia pine because of its susceptibility to pests. These forests were established and managed according to the common silivicultural practices for pure, even-aged pine forests. In the coastal plain and valleys, eucalypts dominate the planted forests. These forests were the outcome of a massive national program to reclaim and restore Israel’s degraded Mediterranean landscape. Over time, these simplified afforestations evolved into a more complex set of forest stands resulting from three processes: 1) the re-colonization of native tree and shrub species into the understory; 2) the diversification of simplified stand structures, due to natural mortality, destructive agents, and the development of patch dynamics: and, 3) plantings mixed-species. A "near-native" type of forest ecosystem is currently evolving, one embodying a sum total of natural and artificial processes – a forest which combines elements of the pioneer afforestation plantings, mostly pines, with a regenerating native Mediterranean oak maquis.

Afforestation in semi-arid region
Afforestation is practiced on a large scale in the semi-arid regions of Israel as part of the effort to combat desertification and to rehabilitate degraded areas, as well as to provide ecosystem services for the people residing in the Negev, the Southern region of Israel.
Afforestation in this area is based on planting drought resistance species and on proper management of soil and water resources. There are two main planted forest types in the Northern Negev, depending on the topography and soil characteristic: 1) common pure, even-aged Aleppo pine forests, mostly planted on hilly slopes. These forests were densely planted in the past, about 3,500 seedlings per hectare, and gradually thinned to leave only 300 to 500 trees per hectare. Today, the planting density is lower, about 1,500 seedlings per hectare; 2) sparse planting, up to 200 seedlings per hectare, on moderate slopes, plains, and valleys. This planting method is named "savanization". The common tree species in this type of forests are both native, such as acacias and tamarisk, and exotic, mostly eucalypts.

This type of forest depends on water harvesting which is based on the same water harvesting methods that were used by the ancient farmers in the Negev for food production. Today they are being implemented by means of modern techniques and knowledge, providing the soil moisture needed to successfully grow planted trees, natural shrubs, and herbaceous vegetation. Runoff water is a renewable and sustainable resource which can be provided to the planted sites, even during droughts and under climatic conditions related to global warming. Runoff water is harvested on slopes along contour terraces. The height of the terraces is up to 0.7 meter and the distance between terraces is range from 8 to 25 meters. Excess runoff water flow through a spillway system, avoiding erosion damages during extreme rain and flood events. Trees and improved pasture are developed along the terrace cause of collecting several floods a year.

In area with a low rainfall, below 100 mm, trees are solely planted in limans (ponds) constructed in wadis and valleys. Limans are dammed sites, into which floods flow water to the planted trees. The area of limans usually ranges from 0.2 to 0.6 hectare and it is supplied by watersheds 10 to 100 times as large. The limans can be used for recreation, to provide local fuel, or to provide shade for man, livestock, and wildlife.     
Implementing water harvesting methods and afforestation on a watershed scale provides a means for flood and erosion control, thus enabling the rehabilitation of eroded sites and protecting arable and urban land from these processes. Controlled grazing reduces fire hazard and provides additional runoff for planted trees.

Part of the rehabilitation effort involves plantations along dry riverbeds (wadis) in the Negev. These plantations are aimed at preventing soil erosion, thus protecting the wadis, cultivated fields, and urban areas from erosion processes. Soil-conservation measures, such as gully head and bank control and proper drainage of cultivated areas, are major components in the rehabilitation effort. These planted dry riverbeds serve for seasonal grazing, recreation sites, and green belts close to the nearby towns and settlements.

Natural Forests in Israel
Nearly one third of the forests in Israel are "Natural Forests", which means "not planted by man". They are mostly composed of Mediterranean vegetation, similar to the Californian maquis or chaparral. In protected sites, such as cemeteries and other holy places and in sporadic grooves, there are large magnificent trees of the same species that grow in the maquis areas. This indicates that the maquis formation is the outcome of centuries of overcutting, overgrazing, and fires. The natural forests are mainly located in the mountain regions in the central and the northern regions of Israel and cover about 40,000 ha. The main tree species in the maquis areas are oaks (Quercus calliprinus, Quercus boissieri, Quercus ithaburensis), and Pinus halepensis, Ceratonia siliqua, Pistacia palestina,and Cercis siliquestrum. 

 Ecosystem goods and services from planted forests

The Israeli forests, both planted and natural, are perceived as multi-functional, ecological landscape systems, which are managed for multiple services to the public and ecology of their surrounding regions. The primary goals of KKL is to protect the planted and natural forest vegetation resources and maintain quality forested environments as an open, green hinterland for the public wellbeing.
Timber production - The forests in Israel are not planted for timber production, but there has been some wood production as a result of forest management (thinning, sanitation operations, clear cut after fires, and etc.). The timber serves mostly for firewood and some industrial uses. As a result of the rising cost of fuel and other energy resources, the demand for firewood has increased significantly. In the last five years, a special program has been run in rural areas to provide families with free firewood from the forests.

Non-wood/timber products such as mushrooms, fruits, and herbs are collected on a small scale, either as a cultural practice or for the provision of a self-sufficient food supply.
Grazing pasture - Most of the forests in rural areas are used for grazing, mainly for cattle, but sometimes for sheep and goats. In open spaces, special groves are being planted to provide shade for animals as well as for honey production.

Recreation and tourism - This is one of KKL main priorities. As the Israeli Forest Service, KKL provides recreation and tourist services, park infrastructure and sustainable development, so that everyone can enjoy the forests. Many people look forward with enthusiasm to spend time in the forests on weekends and holidays. Over 12 million people a year visit the forests, indicating their popularity.

Thousands of picnic sites, scenic roads, observation points, hiking and biking trails, playgrounds, natural parks, and historical sites have been developed or reconstructed, especially in the last 20 years. Many of these facilities are handicap-accessible. All forests and their facilities are open to the public free of charge.

KKL has initiated "e-yarok", a green newsletter that is sent to tens thousands of people all over the country, offering them information on activities, field trips, and cultural activities in the forests.
Aside from the general regulation services, such as carbon sequestration, erosion control, pollination, and etc., which are more relevant to a small, dense, and largely urban and industrial country as Israel, two additional specific services, are needed to be emphasized:
•    Protection of the land and its limited resources from the pressures of urbanization
•    Creation of buffer zones from industrial pollution and noise and their potential adverse effects on the population

Community – Urban Forests

The need for urban forests and woodland around built-up areas in Israel is growing in recent years with the undergoing rapid urbanization process, similar to that in other countries. More than 91% of the population in Israel resides in urban areas. Immigration to Israel, especially in the 1990s, contributed significantly to the already high population growth rate, and led to ongoing development of existing and new communities. This has created tremendous pressure on green open spaces, particularly on forests near urban areas. On the other hand, more urban woodland and other green spaces are needed to meet the recreational and other demands of the growing urban population.
The importance of forests and green open areas nearby cities is reflected in environmental, social, educational, and economic assets that draw city-dwellers close to nature, offering refuge from city tumult. The forests help to improve air quality, reduce city heat and radiation, contribute to maintaining biodiversity, and create pleasant residential environments.  Also, Israel has a highly diverse population, and the forests have become a place where all city residents can meet an equal footing, regardless of social or cultural status.

In 2002, KKL assumed the strategic mission of improving the development and management of "Community Forests" - forests near and inside urban areas. The work is guided by the principle of partnership with the community residents and Local Authorities. The residents active partnership in the decision-making concerning the forest character makes them more responsible and sensitive to their surroundings and increases the likelihood that they will maintain the forest for themselves and future generations. As a result, common forests have been turned into community forests – sites of nature recreation and a source of pride and of the reside identification with the environment. The process is based on the following principles:
a)    Conserving and caring for the community forest, its natural assets, and cultural heritage.
b)    Free access for all residents to all parts of the forest and its facilities.
c)    Co-management in mutual partnership with KKL, the local authority, and        the local community in establishing and maintaining the forest.

Every community has its own forest common team, which deals with a variety of areas, including devising the forest vision and drafting a master plan, ongoing maintenance, including cleaning and site adoption, updating the public with information via the local press and community websites, and setting up a team of forest volunteers based on community residents. Volunteers are a key component of community forest action. Volunteers guide forest visitors on topics of botany, archeology, and environmentalism. They take part in KKL professional inventory surveys, and are partners in the forest care. Not only adults, but also youngsters and pupils, participate in guiding. KKL foresters offer the volunteers professional enrichment seminars.

Survey results show that more than 50% of the residents have visited the nearby community forests. For many of the visitors, especially families with children, the forests are a frequent haunt year around.

In all forests, the first choice of activity is walking or biking, whereas picnics come in second place. About 80% of the visitors utilize forest trails for walking or biking.
The first forest, which was later turned into a community forest, was planted in 1956 as a green belt around Jerusalem. Until 1967, KKL had planted some million trees in the Jerusalem Forest, which today covers an area of 450 hectares. The forest has become the city main site of nature excursions and recreation for city residents.
As of July 2011, there are 16 active community forests in Israel.

International Cooperation and Capacity Building

Over the years, KKL has actively cooperated with many countries and international organizations on a wide range of projects. KKL is committed to enhancing international cooperation activities by addressing key global issues through mutual technological exchange, knowledge-sharing and dissemination of advanced environmental methods to other countries.
KKL is at the forefront of technology in the areas of:
•    Managing open areas and forests in semi-arid and arid regions
•    Combating desertification
•    Developing and implementing advanced methods for harvesting water runoff
•    River and stream rehabilitation and water purification through wetlands and biofilters
•    Land conservation through sustainable agriculture and research
•    Research and application of biological pest control techniques

KKL shares and exports its knowledge and experience all over the world, and has participated or sponsored numerous international conferences and workshops demonstrating our technical experience and applied research.

In recent years, countries around the world and international forums have shown an increasing interest and willingness to learn with and from KKL.

Some of our recent activities include: 1) a project in Rwanda with a village of orphans from the last incursion, where we have established a nursery, along with a training program, that includes greenhouses and beehives for honey production. The project aimed to provide these young adults with a profession, economic possibilities, and knowledge, which they can pass on to other villages; 2) communication with India, Thailand, South Africa, and other countries to help them cope with a serious infestation problem in their large eucalyptus plantations by means of biological control; 3) sharing knowledge and experience with the Palestinian Authority in afforestation, forest management, and firefighting.
By continuing to offer professional services, through training, seminars and workshops, KKL is developing wide international contacts being a leader in a large variety of different fields.

In summary, one hundred and ten years of KKL forestry has created a significant and integral part of Israel’s open space resources.  A diversifying system of forest cover plays an important role in the ecological and social spheres of the Israeli society. Over this period forest structure and species composition increased in diversity and evolved into a complex afforestation system of 100,000 hectares in size.

The Israeli forests, both planted and natural, are perceived as multi-functional, ecological landscape systems, which are managed for multiple services to the society and ecology of their surrounding regions. Since the 1980’s, planted forestlands underwent a transformation from pure, even-aged forests to a mosaic of mixed, uneven-aged, multiple-use forests, with a greater degree of ecological stability, biological diversity, and landscape aesthetic value. This process will expand as more and more stands are renewed and as new lands are added to the nation forest inventory.

For Articles, comments or use please contact
Ahuva Bar-Lev
KKL-JNF – Information and Publications
Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493

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