Promoting forestry legislation in Israel

As a part of the twenty years cooperation between KKL-JNF and the United States Forestry Service - a team from the USFS was in Israel from June 12-16 to share their experience and ideas and help promote forestry legislation in Israel.

article (photo credit: KKL-JNF)
(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
For over twenty years, KKL-JNF and the United States Forestry Service (USFS) have worked together and collaborated on matters such as exchanging professional and technical information, research and international cooperation. As part of this ongoing relationship, a team from the USFS was in Israel from June 12-16 to share their experience and ideas and help promote forestry legislation in Israel. The team was headed by Gail Kimbell, former USFS chief, Larry Wiseman, former president and CEO of the American Forest Federation, and Drew Gower of the USFS International Relations Department.
During their stay, the Americans visited forests throughout Israel, including the Carmel Forest in the north, where they saw the results of last year's terrible forest fire. A good deal of the visit was devoted to professional workshops, where they worked together with KKL-JNF professionals on legal and technical aspects of forestry legislation and enforcement. The USFS team also met with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Israel Land Administration (ILA), and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, all of whom are partners to the ongoing discussion.
On Thursday, June 16, a one-day conference took place at the Ramat Rahel Hotel in Jerusalem, where representatives of the various ministries and organizations joined KKL-JNF and the USFS delegation to sum up and present the conclusions of the visit.
KKL-JNF CEO Ms. Yael Shealtieli welcomed the guests on behalf of KKL-JNF and KKL-JNF World Chairman Mr. Efi Stenzler, who was unable to attend. "As you all know, KKL-JNF, which is the largest and oldest green organization in Israel, is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year. Besides being the caretaker of Israel's forests, we are also involved in water projects, river restoration, combating desertification and ecological tourism, to mention only a few of the areas we specialize in.
"We have planted over 240 million trees, and there is no substitute for the expertise and experience we have gained over the past 110 years. In the covenant signed with KKL-JNF in 1960, the government of Israel declared that KKL-JNF and Israel's forests are synonymous. We focus on all dimensions of forestry management and place special emphasis on making Israel's forests accessible to the general public. We also assign a great deal of importance to education, and our Education Department hosts 350,000 children from Israel annually, along with 150,000 children from abroad.
"The fact that KKL-JNF is a non-governmental organization gives it a distinct advantage in promoting environmental concerns, and we have successfully led many campaigns to protect Israel's natural resources. Our mission is to balance between the needs of Israel's populace in the present and to preserve our ecosystems for the future. I would like to thank our American associates for their willingness to share their experience with us. It has been incredibly helpful." Ms. Shealtieli presented the USFS delegation with beautiful "hamsas" as a token of KKL-JNF's appreciation.
Forest management and International cooperation
The conference was opened by Dr. Omri Boneh, KKL-JNF Northern Region Director, who reviewed the history of KKL-JNF in general, and the forestry legislation in Israel specifically: "Forestry legislation in Israel is still based on the 1926 Forestry Law that was enacted during the British mandate. In 1926, there were barely any forests in Israel, and it goes without saying that the current situation is entirely different. Today, Israel has over a million dunams of forests planted by KKL-JNF, and about half a million dunams of natural woodlands. For everyone's benefit, it is absolutely necessary to legally define the parameters of forest management in Israel. Towards this end, we invited our friends from the USFS, with whom we have enjoyed a close and very fruitful relationship over the past years.
"Israel's forests are based on species indigenous to our region along with conifers and eucalyptus trees. KKL-JNF is considered a world leader in successfully restoring and maintaining natural woodlands, along with being a pioneer in afforestation in arid and semi-arid regions, where annual precipitation is only 200-300 mms. We also share our knowledge with developing countries throughout the world.
"In 1995, the National Master Plan for Forests and Afforestation (NMP22) was ratified, which recognizes that planting forests is not enough. Forests need to be protected against urban development and other pressures for future generations. Since then, KKL-JNF has prepared over 200 forest management plans, a process that helped KKL-JNF foresters to see every single dunam of forest in high resolution. We also prepared master plans for each and every forest. The purpose of this project is to clearly define the current situation and to ensure that any future legislation takes it into account.
"I would also like to briefly mention KKL-JNF's international program. We participate in professional international forestry and environmental forums, both in Israel and also abroad. We have a reputation for our achievements in many areas, from combating desertification to finding creative solutions for various problems. One famous example is our gall wasp project, in which we identified the natural enemy of a bug that is killing eucalyptus trees throughout the world, knowledge that we shared with many different countries, including those that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel."
Legal dilemmas
Yehudit Pasternack, KKL-JNF's legal advisor, reviewed some of the legal dilemmas that she faces on a daily basis, but she first thanked the American guests: "The week that we spent together has been incredible for me. I so much appreciate your understanding and thoroughness, and the comprehensiveness of American law. In my opinion, legislation should be simple and clear, and that is our goal for the new forest law.
"As previously mentioned, the covenant signed in 1960 between the government of Israel and KKL-JNF declared that KKL-JNF is solely responsible for Israel's forests, and that covenant has legal and normative validity. I would emphasize that there is a legal distinction between responsibility and ownership, which KKL-JNF was not granted. In Israel, the Ministry of Agriculture is involved in forestry research, not forest administration. The Minister of Agriculture appoints a KKL-JNF forester as chief forest officer – currently David Brand - who is empowered to give licenses to KKL-JNF's foresters.
"Since the forestry law has not been amended since 1926, we must deal with many situations in which the law is not always clear, and judges must decide on how to interpret it. There are questions regarding trees on private land, authority to fine people who harm the forests, building infractions, and more. The new law will ensure the establishment of a public council to oversee forestry management and regulate the relationship between KKL-JNF appointees and the Ministry of Agriculture. It will also restate KKL-JNF's legal status as the forester of Israel's woodlands, as everyone is in agreement that KKL-JNF is the only organization capable of carrying out this task in the present and future, just as it has in the past."
Forests and the public discourse
Gail Kimbel, former USFS chief, thanked the KKL-JNF representatives for their hospitality and said that although this was a professional visit, "I've been having a wonderful time. It's been very special to work with you, professionally and personally, and this lends an added dimension to our time here."
"The legal situation in the United States is quite different than Israel, since about half of our forests are on privately owned lands, and there are also national, state and town forests. The first forestry conference was convened by President Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s, and everyone interested in forests was invited. It was very controversial, there were many different interests, but it resulted in a framework for public policy.
"Since then, we have had six more forestry conferences, the most recent one having taken place nine years ago in Washington, D.C. In the US, there are many different agencies and interest groups connected to forests, so the question is, how do we define and achieve common goals? At the USFS, one of our guiding principles is that we are not just a federal agency, but a good neighbor of whomever we have to work with. Public discourse is one of the most important values of democracy, and I value it very highly. In Israel, we see a lot of deep and abiding interest in forests. My sense is that all the ministries and organizations involved with forests have shared goals, but they are not always articulated. Sometimes the same terms mean different things even for people who speak the same language.
"The public also wants to be involved. How do you involve them? It's different in different places. It's critical to ask yourselves where you want to go and to have a vision for the forests. You need to identify mechanisms for accountability. You have tremendously different ecosystems here, and that implies different goals. For example, you have archaeological resources that are thousands of years old, something that is absolutely mind-boggling from my perspective." 
Creating a 'virtuous cycle'
Larry Wiseman, a consultant who was the president and CEO of the American Forest Federation for thirty years, said that drawing from American experience to help with Israeli issues was an unusual challenge: "We understand what we're told, but we don't always get the context. What we can do is describe our experience in the United States with confronting similar issues, since what we have in common is our commitment to environmental protection.
"We don't have so many forestry laws in the United States, maybe four or five. In my opinion, dialogue between the various interest groups is the heart of the matter, not legislation passed in Congress. I was at the seventh forestry conference, where there were many different organizations, and by the end of the third day, we all had a much deeper understanding of each other's perspective. Talking together creates a better climate for understanding common goals and makes everyone realize just how necessary cooperation is. A memorandum of this understanding is legislated, but implementation is left to the people involved.
"You need to look at the various organizational ecosystems, each one is different. In a democracy, we all work for the public interest, and you must define commonly accepted goals, adapt programs to satisfy these goals, assign responsibility and roles for the respective parties and install mechanisms to assess progress. This is what I call a 'virtuous cycle.'
Identifying common goals
Gail and Larry took questions from the audience and were asked about a wide range of topics. Professor Alon Tal, a member of KKL-JNF's Board of Directors and chairman of KKL-JNF's Land Development Committee, noted that forestry in Israel is in transition, and asked how it is possible to ensure that changes in the forestry map don't adversely affect ecological integrity, and how to define critical hotspots and put all this into law. "Laws," Gail replied, "should be short, concise and sweet, while implementation should be in the hands of professionals."
Hagai, a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture, asked about balancing between the different organizations involved in forestry. "You need to have an ongoing conversation," Gail responded, "like the conference taking place here today. It needs to be inclusive, not exclusive. It's not simple. KKL-JNF is an NGO, which creates a challenge different than anything I've ever had to deal with."
KKL-JNF's Yisrael Tauber asked about tools for identifying the public interest. Larry answered that "first and foremost, you need a lot of patience. Public involvement can be either formal or informal. You need to formulize rules for public involvement, and take everyone – citizen's groups, elected officials, NGOs, and everyone with an interest – into consideration." Gail added that it's like weaving a tapestry: "You might have all the threads, but you need a professional weaver to put them all together." And as Larry concluded: "Challenge yourself to listen. You'll always learn something."
Yael Shealtieli thanked everyone for their participation, saying that the visit of the American delegation and the conference itself was a major step towards formulating forestry legislation in Israel: "It is largely in your merit that representatives from all the ministries and organizations involved are sitting together, and it is our hope that we will continue to do so in the future. Thank you once again."
Gail summed everything up beautifully and concisely: "The hardest and most important thing is to identify your common goals. After that, it all comes together. It's a fabulous journey that you're on, and it's been a real privilege for us to be part of it."  

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