Making Israel's forests thrive—even in the desert

"To grow a forest in an area with annual rainfall of 270 mm. is magic," he said. "It's really a miracle."

Yatir Forest in the northern Negev (photo credit: KKL-JNF ARCHIVE)
Yatir Forest in the northern Negev
(photo credit: KKL-JNF ARCHIVE)
The country’s forests provide more than just shade and a nice place to hike: They are on the global forefront of drought- and pesticide-resistant tree technology.
In honor of the United Nation’s International Forests Day, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund’s chief forester, Dr. David Brand, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday about the work his team is doing to fight invasive species and make drought-resistant trees.
He focused on the extensive work that has been done with Cyprus trees from the Yatir Forest in the Negev, the country’s largest planted forest.
International Forests Day, now in it’s fourth year, aims to highlight the importance of woodlands and 2016’s theme focuses on their connection to the supply of freshwater worldwide.
Brand’s job deals with four main issues: drought, forest fires, invasive species and land development.
His work has brought the country to the fore, gaining Israeli technology recognition.
“To grow a forest in an area with annual rainfall of 270 mm. is magic,” he said. “It’s really a miracle.”
One of the latest forest innovations came about following two consecutive years of drought that wiped out 99 percent of the trees in Yatir Forest, located in the northern Negev and Israel’s largest desert forest. Samples were taken from the few trees that managed to survive for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to study, leading to the development of drought-resistant Cyprus trees. Similar research is being done with Acacia and other tree species in the hopes of replanting with drought-resistant versions.
He said that these types of trees are necessary as weather becomes more extreme. As a result of the research, a system was developed to determine whether or not a seedling is drought-resistant. The forest research station at Yatir, he said, draws researchers from around the world since it is one of the few located in a desert.
From this work, KKL-JNF received many accolades from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, gaining official observer status at the convention’s Conference of Parties.
The work being done to fight invasive species in Israeli forests has become well known. Brand spoke of a wasp that came to Israel at some point between 2006 and 2009, developing into a serious tree threat. He said that the idea of using pesticides in the middle of a forest would have been unthinkable.
So he took part in a team that traveled around Australia to find this wasp’s natural predator.
The result of the three years of research resulted in a solution to this wasp that has plagued several continents. The organization distributes the predators, another type of wasp, free or charge to any organization that requires it.
KKL-JNF has planted 240 million trees in Israel since 1901 and its Forestry Division manages 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres).