(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
"I see lots of indigenous trees sprouting up everywhere, they are forest of the future," said KKL-JNF Carmel Forester Micha Silko. "There are terebinths, oaks and other trees that are growing at really impressive rates. One of our most exciting discoveries was an area where new strawberry trees, which are not very common in the Carmel, are suddenly the predominant tree. In the future, this hill slope, which is now covered by the remains of burnt trees, will be a grove of beautiful strawberry trees with their distinctive red bark."
Micha had invited us for a day in the Carmel to see how nature was renewing itself after December's unprecedented forest fire, which destroyed over 3,500 hectares of forests and natural woodlands. Against the backdrop of the burnt trees, we saw new foliage bursting up out of the grey ashes, awakening mixed emotions of sadness and hope. "The fire was terrible," Micha continued, "but the fact that the pine trees were burned exposed the forest floor to the sun, allowing trees whose roots were underground to receive sunlight and begin to flourish. In addition, the new trees also benefited from water that previously went to the pine trees.
"This section of the Carmel Forest was originally planted by KKL-JNF during the 1950s. We had a sense of urgency at that time, because planting forests was a way to protect Israel's lands, and conifers grow very quickly. Today, we have the luxury of knowing that we have time, we don't need immediate results and land cover. These strawberry trees will begin looking like a forest in ten to fifteen years from now.
"As for the pine trees, we're going to start cutting down the dead trees very soon. One of the lessons we learned from the forest fires that broke out during the Second Lebanese War was that some seemingly burnt pine trees were actually still alive. Whenever I see a pine tree that somehow managed to survive the flames, I do everything in my power to help that tree stay alive. Now, enough time has past since the fire, and we know which trees are dead and which are still alive. We have to get the burnt trees out of the way, firstly, because the decaying trees are a home for pests and secondly, because the dry trees catch fire instantly and increase the danger of future forest fires. We are also starting to create new fire breaks throughout the Carmel, with the help of KKL-JNF's friends throughout the world.
"The fire also caused pine cones to burst open and scatter pine tree seeds all over the forest floor. As a result, little pine seedlings are coming up everywhere, and we'll have to thin them out. We will, however, let some of them grow. People tend to forget that conifers are indigenous to the Carmel and are even mentioned in the Bible."