"Israel is a beautiful country. We've seen wonderful forests, orchards and water projects. I spent yesterday in the south visiting Yatir Forest and Beersheba, and then learned about cooperation with the Bedouins. It's been very intense but I'm enjoying every moment."
Gail Kimbell, newly appointed chief of the United States Forest Service, is on a visit to Israel, and on Wednesday, 19th March she was the guest of KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler at KKL-JNF Head Office in Jerusalem, where Ms. Kimbell had the opportunity to view KKL-JNF's Books of Honor.
Speaking at a special session in honor of Ms. Kimbell and KKL-JNF's top officials and foresters, Stenzler noted that the excellent relations between KKL-JNF and the U.S. Forest Service reflected the special relationship between the United States and Israel. "The United States is and has always been, Israel's greatest friend. You are responsible for forests in the United States, and we are responsible for them here in Israel. I think the forests are in good hands, because in each of our countries, there is one organization that cares for them, rather than a number of different ministries. We are also both very concerned about water. There is no doubt that in the future, the world will have less and less water. As a country with a small annual precipitation, Israel has been addressing and researching water issues for years. Our special expertise is water harvesting and management in desert regions, as you saw on your visit to the south.
"We very much want to share our knowledge with our neighbors. The US Forest Service has funded some joint projects with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. We would like to cooperate with other Middle Eastern countries, but it takes two to tango. In the meantime, we will continue to find ways of combating desertification, because we are responsible for the next generation. On behalf of KKL-JNF, I would like to present you with a certificate recognizing the longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship between KKL-JNF and the US Forest Service. Thank you very much for being our guest."
Stenzler also gave gifts to Dr. Robert Mangold, Director of the Forest Service's Forest Health Protection Department, to Frank Sapio, director of the Technology Department at Forest Health protection, and to accompanying American Embassy representatives. In turn, Ms. Kimbell presented the KKL-JNF World Chairman with a beautiful sand-cast pinecone from Massachusetts and an album of the history of the US Forest Service entitled "The Greatest Good." She spoke of the history of the US Forest Service and her plans for the future. "I started out in the service as a seasonal employee in Oregon thirty-five years ago. I am very pleased with my choice to be a forester, and I love to see young people who make such a choice today.
"The United States has 200,000,000 acres of forests, 20% of which are the responsibility of the Forest Service. The Forest Service has 35,000 employees, including scientists, ecologists, and of course forest rangers, among others. Many of them have worked with KKL-JNF people on various projects, and it has been a fabulous exchange.
"One can't help but be affected when visiting a new country, and this seems to especially be the case when in Israel. Yesterday I visited Yatir Forest in the south, saw some of our joint projects, and met Professor Dan Yakir. I was happy to see the carob and olive trees alongside the pines, so there is no monoculture of trees. We also visited archeological sites, and it was fascinating to see the work of the ancients, especially the efforts they made to harvest water - work that KKL-JNF is continuing today. I was also very moved to see a garden in the desert.
"Looking towards the future, I see three key issues: climate change, water, and kids. Due to climate change, forest health has become a major issue now. In addressing this, we work together with our neighbors, Canada and Mexico, and also with countries around the globe. For instance, today I learned about your research on the Albido effect and the dimming effect at Yatir. These partnerships are important, not just for the United States, but for the entire planet.
"As for water, KKL-JNF is really one of the leaders in water management, an issue that is becoming increasingly important. In the southwestern United States, water is the limiting factor of development, and we have been experiencing draughts in the southeastern region of our country. We are looking at both the quality and quantity of water - when water leaves the forest, it is our job to make sure that it is clean and abundant.
"Today's children are not getting the same experience of the outdoors that I received as a child. I am very concerned about that, because they are the voters of the future, they will be choosing between conservation and other priorities. We have established a "Kids in the Woods" program to expose children to forests and to the wilderness. In conclusion, I want to thank you again for your hospitality. You've all been fabulous."
Dr. Yossi Leshem, director of the International Center for the Study of Bird Migration at Latrun, presented a fascinating and very entertaining presentation on bird migration in Israel, focusing on cooperation between KKL-JNF and the Israel Society for the Protection of Nature. He pointed out that "although the United States is somewhat bigger than Israel, we have twelve species of eagles, while the US has only two. Israel is located at a juncture of different countries and geographic regions. This makes for a political disaster, but an ecological wonderland. Besides our joint project with KKL-JNF in the Hula Valley that you will be visiting tomorrow, our two organizations are planning to invite everyone in Israel to the Ben Shemen and Yatir forests to view the 100,000 eagles who fly over Israel for two weeks every year. We are also planning a Great Rift Valley project with 22 additional countries."
In the ensuing discussion, KKL-JNF foresters and officials took the opportunity to thank Gail Kimbell for twenty years of cooperation between the US Forest Service and KKL-JNF. The three main areas of collaboration have been research, technical exchange and education. Almost all of the foresters had visited the U.S.A. at least once as part of the 120 missions that the two organizations have exchanged, including forty missions of U.S. foresters that came to Israel and over eighty Israeli missions that traveled to the United States. Since 1990, twelve KKL-JNF foresters have participated in one-year master's level academic studies and since 1987; all 5 USFS chiefs have visited Israel and reinstated their commitment to mutual support.
On Thursday, Gail Kimbell travelled north, where she visited various joint KKL-JNF and USFS projects, the highlight of which was the restored Hula Valley, with its plethora of water birds and other winged creatures. She also visited some of the forests that were burnt down during the Second Lebanese War and Nahal Harod, where there is a joint KKL-USFS river restoration project. Earlier, Ms. Kimbell was in American Independence Park in the Judean Mountains for a very moving and emotional ceremony at which she dedicated an impressive memorial to USFS firemen killed in the course of fighting forest fires. The choice of an Israeli forest as the site of a memorial for the USFS's heroes is perhaps one of most powerful expressions of the tight bond and ongoing collaboration between KKL-JNF and the United States Forest Service.
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