(photo credit: Courtesy)
KKL-JNF has recently been making efforts to set up an international foundation for research into water and conservation, in partnership with countries such as Canada, Australia, the USA and Italy. Recently, direct research links with these states have been developed by KKL-JNF. The issue will be raised at an international symposium on water that will take place in Canada shortly, informs Dr. Avi Gafni, who coordinates research in KKL-JNF, as part of the work of the Land Development Authority.
Gafni explains that research and cooperation links formed by KKL-JNF in recent years with several regional governments in Canada (Alberta and Manitoba) with the US Forestry Service and with the main research organizations in Australia, Italy and Spain, place KKL-JNF as the most appropriate organization in Israel for research into conservation of water sources and secondary uses of water.
Summing up research activity in 2006, he says that the number of ongoing surveys has remained constant, whether funded directly in full or in part by KKL-JNF. This work is usually carried out by researchers from the Agricultural Research Organization (Volcani center) in the Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with scientists from the Weizmann Institute and Israeli universities, together with KKL-JNF's own experts. Approximately 60 surveys took place in 2006, most of them budgeted and planned ahead of time and lasting over three years.
Within the limited research budgets, Dr. Gafni would like to see a smaller number of surveys but more depth. In his view, the multiplicity of simultaneous surveys creates difficulties for the funding system and he believes that new priorities have to be set for research approval processes, in cooperation with the main partners - the Ministry of Agriculture and the Universities. "Within this present mass of surveys, some are very serious and two are actually of general, worldwide significance. One is the ongoing research into the struggle against ophelimus maskelli, which is a tiny gall wasp that causes tremendous damage to eucalyptus trees, thereby seriously injuring the wood industry in developed countries, while in the homeland of the eucalyptus - Australia - the damage is minor due to local natural enemies. This research focuses on introduction and follow-up of natural enemies.
Other major researches deal with the matsucoccus josephi sacle insect that kills Aleppo pines in our forests in Israel, although it does not attack other species of pines such as Brutia (Turkish) pines.
"The question that needs to be discussed is: How much of our resources should be devoted to surveys that demand our time and manpower? When should we continue them or stop to decide on other research needs?" These dilemmas plague Gafni constantly.
Ecologist Yoram Goldring, of KKL-JNF's land authority research committee, emphasizes the complexity of the whole topic of surveys. He mentions the growing trend of introducing foreign strains of plants into a local ecological system: some of these species "take-over" the landscape and the habitats of local plants, and become pests.
One example of this is the appearance of water hyacinths in the Yarkon River and in the small lake of runoff underground water beside Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak in the Sharon region.
About 70% of all the surveys carried out today deal with forestry. Eight of them address fires and fires' effect on Israel's woodlands, the renewal of the forests after fires, and the organized planting of wide-leaved trees within forests of pine and cypress. Today there is great awareness that caution is required about possible "breakthroughs" by new types of plants, which cause changes in the ecological balance in a forest or wood. Yoram Goldring says that as a result of research carried out after the great fire on the Carmel Mountain, it was decided that part of the burnt section will be allowed "to rest" for two or three years, during which time the natural germination that takes place will be closely watched. In areas where Jerusalem (Aleppo) pines burnt down, the most massive germination happened in post-fire years.
Therefore, a decision has to be made whether to start planting other varieties in the same area -which will entail the back-breaking labor of clearing the pine shoots - or to surrender to the Jerusalem pines which, in any case, will eventually dominate the renewing forest. One of the results of research and observations has been the introduction of ploughing equipment into part of the burnt forest and cultivation of the land for other plantings. Nevertheless, we have to be strict about not allowing the Jerusalem pine to invade these areas, or take over the habitat of other seedlings.
A significant part of the surveys carried out with partial or full funding from KKL-JNF include "pure" agricultural research. In the sphere of applied agricultural research for the purpose of new farms in outlying areas, KKL-JNF continues to lead, through its seven R&D stations in the north and south of Israel. At present KKL-JNF devotes NIS 16 million a year to support agricultural research, whereas formerly its allocation for different spheres of research was as much as NIS 29 million a year.
Gafni and Goldring wish to emphasize that from the aspect of non-applicable research, and also because of its public aspect and international implications, KKL-JNF's research results should go hand-in-hand with reputable scientific publication. "Our challenge every year is to choose the research with the most to contribute, in terms of their service, and whose proper procedure and implementation can be monitored by us."
Dr.Gafni stresses that many KKL-JNF researches are funded directly from contributions by Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, and also recently by overseas foundations in states such as Alberta and Manitoba in Canada whose governments have direct research links with KKL-JNF, including official bilateral missions.
The Israeli research of greatest interest overseas addresses water and water quality, and research into desertification. The common denominator uniting all these surveys is ecology in general, and in particular the struggle against global warming.