Government not doing enough to stop influx of invasive species - comptroller

Looking at international agreements to preserve biological variety, the comptroller found that Israel failed to ratify several international treaties aimed at preserving the marine environment.

Wild boars cross a road in a residential area after the government ordered residents to stay home to fight the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Haifa, northern Israel April 16, 2020. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Wild boars cross a road in a residential area after the government ordered residents to stay home to fight the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Haifa, northern Israel April 16, 2020.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Some enemies try to invade Israel – not only through gaps in the security fences to the east and the south – and their weapons are not guns, bombs, knives and axes.

They are invading animal and plant species and even microorganisms that arrive by land, air and sea, and they are trying to take over and defeat native species that are suited to living in this land.

They range from the Formosan subterranean termite and red fire ants to wild pigs, common myna birds and parakeets, and common water hyacinths and water lettuce.

With the growth in the human population in Israel and the speedy development that wipes out nature spots, biological variety is reduced, which influences the ecological balance and reduces its service to mankind. And it also damages the economy.

The State Comptroller’s 69-page section on the authorities’ action – or inaction – to deter invasive species from taking over states that “between scores and dozens of hundreds of invasive species exist in Israel, and they cause damage between NIS 473 million to NIS 1.5 billion annually."

“The State Comptroller’s report about Invasive Species should worry anyone and everyone who cares about Israel’s natural world," MK Alon Tal remarked on the report. "The report confirms our darkest fears: Invasive species compete with—and ultimately supplant the natural flora and fauna of the land of Israel.  Israel makes almost no effort to prevent the phenomenon."

Wild pigs that invaded Haifa years ago and recently arrived in the environs of Jerusalem and other parts of the country spread garbage and even chase residents young and old. From June 2021 until January of this year, the Haifa Municipality received 3,586 complaints about wandering wild pigs.

Comptroller Matanyahu Englman examined the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Nature and Parks Authority and the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry, as well as the Health Ministry, the Society for the Protection of Nature and other bodies that should be involved in dealing with this challenge.

Looking at international agreements to preserve biological variety, the comptroller found that Israel does not meet 14 out of the 17 targets and that it failed to ratify several international treaties aimed at preserving the marine environment. He also discovered that Israel lacks strategic plans that exist in many other countries to protect against invading species as well as mandatory regulations for the reduction and prevention of damage resulting from the establishment of invasive species that are not harmful to plants.

HARM TO native species is caused not only by invaders but also by infrastructure built in unsuitable places. The destruction of habitats and the fragmentation of ecosystems that affects biodiversity is caused, for example, by the construction of wind turbines to generate electricity. The turbines are located on global bird migration routes and cause the migration path to be interrupted and the death of migratory birds. And the turbine's energy transmission lines may cause collision and mortality of birds.

The destruction of the habitat itself due to the placement of the turbine infrastructure, the fencing of turbine farms and the prevention of predators entering the area, combined with the excessive deaths of the birds all cause continuous damage to native species and consequently to biodiversity, the comptroller wrote.

The responsibility for preventing harm to native species falls between the cracks of too many government and voluntary bodies, resulting in difficulties in collecting information and know-how and assessing risks, not to mention the taking of urgent action, the report says.

Some of the invaders were brought in illegally as pets or for decorative purposes. “Israel has no law that forbids the release into nature of invading species imported for ornamental and recreational purposes. Despite the ban on the import of aquatic plants…, they are distributed uninterrupted through nurseries, such as the water hyacinth and water lettuce. There is also no legal regulation of a mechanism for scraping and removing equipment infested with invasive species, such as termite-infested furniture."

Supervision at border crossings and ports is also inadequate in preventing the entrance of invading species. Red fire ants first arrived in this country 17 years ago, and by 2013, they caused an estimated NIS 1.22 billion in damage per year.

The comptroller recommended that relevant government ministries ratify international agreements relating to biological diversity and preventing species invasion, and prepare urgent strategic plans to deal with the growing problems. In addition, the Ministry of Environmental Protection should coordinate and carry out plans and set priorities based on assessments and risk management. The issue should get high priority in public awareness via the media and state publications, he said.

Ecological systems based on biological diversity and the supply of products and services to benefit the Israeli population are worth NIS 122 billion a year – and they must be protected, the comptroller's report concluded.

"The State Comptroller’s Report does not leave room for doubt: the time has come for a law that will upgrade the attention paid by decision-makers to the state of nature in Israel – a law that will require the environment protection minister to report regularly to the Knesset about the condition of our ecosystems," said Tal.  "The time has come for a law that will require Israel, at long last, to truly implement the UN Convention on Biodiversity and its expectations for nature conservation.  I call on the minister to sit with me, Professor Shanas, and my colleague MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu who is promoting the law with me in order to reach an agreeable draft.  In the meantime, the invasive species will continue wreak havoc. Nature cannot wait."