On Thursday, 26th March, 2009, KKL-JNF foresters from across Israel met to discuss the present state - and future - of Israel's forests and to hear lectures on general and specific aspects of forest policy. The debate was open and occasionally heated, reflecting the seriousness and involvement of participants to their subject matter.
Gershon Avni, head of KKL-JNF's Land Development Unit, lectured on the effects of the current financial crisis on KKL-JNF. "Two-thirds to three-quarters of KKL-JNF's income is from leasing land and real estate and is adversely affected by an economic downturn. The rest of our budget is covered by donations which are also diminished at the current time. This means that KKL-JNF has no choice but to cut back in all departments and unfortunately, this means cutting back on manpower - a difficult and painful process for us all.
"In terms of the Land Development Unit, our goal is to become more efficient and to maximize resources available to us. Foresters will have to take even greater responsibilities and to specialize in multi-tasking. Although it is a large, bureaucratic organization by definition, KKL-JNF has been extremely flexible and adaptable to changing conditions in the past. I am certain that if we continue to believe in ourselves, we will emerge stronger than ever from the financial crisis."
A New Forest Law
The outgoing Head of Afforestation, Dr. Zvika Avni, received enthusiastic applause from the foresters when he announced that four new forest reserves had been declared in the north. He said that in future, the Afforestation Department must focus on maintaining and protecting existing forests, as well as expansion and development: "At a time like this when our resources are limited, I would recommend giving extensive care only to those forest areas that are used by the public whilst letting nature take its course in those forests and parks that are less accessible. We could supplement our staff with the newly-unemployed or with newly discharged soldiers, but we also need to hire young foresters with academic degrees in forestry -knowledge gained by experience only, is simply insufficient."
"One of the major changes that will affect us in the near future is the new Forest Law that has been stuck in Israel's bureaucracy since 2004 and that will finally be passed by the Knesset. The law will legally define KKL-JNF as the entity responsible for Israel's forest lands, which means that KKL-JNF employees will have greater authority, the forests will enjoy better legal protection and even individual trees will no longer be endangered. I think that if we all work together and overcome bureaucratic obstacles, we will realize greater forest potential in both short-term and long-range goals."
According to David Matak, the new law will mean that KKL-JNF must re-order its methods and priorities. "To comply with the new law, KKL-JNF will have to prepare detailed plans for the various areas over which it is being afforded jurisdiction. In addition, there is a demand for full transparency of activities - every plan must be available for public review. Greater authority comes together with greater responsibility."
Hagai Snir of the Ministry of Agriculture said that the new law will empower forest rangers to punish offenders such as those illegally chopping down trees. He also emphasized the need for detailed maps of both current forests and future reserves. Yisrael Galon, also from the Ministry of Agriculture, detailed what the new law would mean for trees. "In order to cut down a tree, one will need a license. Exact criteria will be set to determine when a tree is ill or constitutes a hazard. Building contractors will have a hard time moving trees from building lots. KKL-JNF employees must become familiar with the details of the new law, to comply with it and to enforce it."
The Art of Forestry
Arye Henig and Yossi Karni are two outgoing KKL-JNF foresters who spoke about the changes that have transpired since they began working twenty to thirty years ago. Arye said that a forester should not be afraid to think at least fifty years ahead! "If in the past a forester managed a forest, today he manages a unit of land. This means that instead of simply considering the forest, he needs to consider the sustainability of the entire ecosystem. I would recommend that each forester divide the area for which he is responsible into units and set specific short and long term goals, based on parameters such as public accessibility, water, topography and scenery, for example. Rather than 'the science of forestry' I like to think of this as 'the art of forestry'."
"A forester has to know every tree in his territory personally," continued Yossi Karni, "and not only the trees. He needs to know the people who live in his region, the government and the army. He has to be a dreamer - someone who envisions what his territory will look like in the future - and he needs to be on top of public relations."
Forestry and R&D
David Brand spoke about the interface between forestry and R&D. "We need to improve the daily interaction between foresters and researchers, so that researchers will provide solutions to problems that arise in the field. Some problems stem from a lack of familiarity with existing research and thus it is imperative to create an accessible data-bank. I also recommend regular round table discussions at which foresters and researchers identify challenges and set mutual goals. KKL-JNF has had world-class successes in various problems gaining information we have shared with other countries - and indeed, the cooperation with other countries is very important. For example, we worked with JNF Australia and Australian scientists on finding a means of biological control for the eucalyptus gall wasp, which led to an international conference in Israel that was attended by representatives from eighteen countries, who were amazed by our success."
Professor Tzvi Mandell emphasized the need for applied research. "In my opinion, foresters are insufficiently involved in research. How many of us have actually read the newly published research papers? In addition, before KKL-JNF supports research, it must first ensure that the projects approved are directly relevant to immediate challenges. In my opinion, the words "ecology" and "ecosystem" are simply overused. For example, carbon sequestration should not be a goal - if a forest thrives and is healthy, sequestration and other processes will take place automatically."
The United States Forest Services
A challenging lecture by Dr. Yoni Shwartz of the United States Forest Services provided foresters with a welcome break from the local pressing questions they had been addressing. Dr. Shwartz reviewed the history of the USFS, its goals and purpose. He then went on to describe his daily work as officer in charge of natural resources in Angeles National Forest. Although the Israeli foresters complain about the bureaucracy here, it seems to be minimal compared to the bureaucracy that Dr. Shwartz deals with in the United States. "Approval of the smallest project may take from four months to 1Â½ years! I must admit, although it has its advantages, every little detail is so regulated that I sometimes miss the balagan (chaos) there is in Israel."
Changes in Forest Policy
Dr. Omri Boneh, head of KKL-JNF's Northern Region, spoke of the changes in forest policy that result from today's goals. "Today's forests are comprised of 50% conifers, 10% cypress, 10% eucalyptus and 25% native broadleaves. In the future, the conifers will be replaced by native broadleaves, creating biodiversity, in other words, forests with greater natural resilience. In the past, when we were primarily interested in creating a green landscape as quickly as possible, we planted the trees very densely. Today, we want to let the sub-forest develop and allow the individual trees more space, which makes them healthier.
"The region also decided the policy. In the south, for example, the struggle against desertification is our primary concern and we have made several breakthroughs of international significance. In the future, we will need to consider total forest management and to share our dilemmas with professionals from various disciplines. One newer focus is the planting of trees along riverbanks, which stabilize the trees and the river restoration projects. Furthermore, we have not as yet paid sufficient attention to policy on existing natural forests. KKL-JNF began encouraging the public to spend their leisure time in the forests under a decade ago, and today we are the primary recreation-in-nature facilitator in the country. KKL-JNF has adhered to a policy of never charging entrance fees to any of our forests or parks, although that too, has become increasingly difficult in the present economic climate.
"Our budgets have been cut, so we must concentrate more on maintenance than on development. I would compare KKL-JNF to a ship that must weather a serious storm, whose sailors have to decide what to jettison, as we will be unable to continue all our present projects. I believe in innovativeness over conservatism - innovativeness has saved us in the past, and now too, it is creative thinking that will guide us through the present crisis to safe shores in the future."
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