Trees into pulp

The post-snowstorm Jerusalem municipality clean up will cost a total of NIS 8 million.

President Shimon Peres planting trees for Tu Bishvat with children at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, January 15, 2014. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres planting trees for Tu Bishvat with children at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, January 15, 2014.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Israel is one of the few countries in the world to enter the 21st century with a net gain of trees due to its massive afforestation efforts.

Will we be able to maintain that, or did the snowstorm bring us back to a lower rating after Alexa, the storm of the century? Chanoch Zoref, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund Jerusalem hills district manager, says, “Yes.”
“Actually, the effect of the snow wasn’t as severe as they thought. If you look nationwide, it caused a very minor disturbance to the forest. The areas that were affected weren’t so large. Where some trees fell, others will grow. It affected a very small percentage; about 1 percent or 2% of all the trees in Israel. In 10 years, even in five, you won’t be able to tell, but Jerusalem is another story. This might take years.
“In the city, someone will have to do a major operation to replant trees more suitable for snow. This is the third major snowstorm in 30 years. Almost every 10 years there is a heavy snow. People are always surprised, I’m not. I’m in the business for 30 years. Snow is not a rare phenomenon in the city.”
The capital lost over 40,000 trees, out of the 141,000 there were before the storm. The hardest hit were the trees in Beit Hakerem, Talbiya, Rehavia, Ramot and Ramot Eshkol. Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Ya’acov suffered less damage.
So far, Jerusalem’s fallen tree canopy has cost the city NIS 6 million and it will take another NIS 2m. to finish the tree cleanup job.
Ofira Levi, chief city parks manager, says, “It was a really strong storm, we didn’t know what would happen.
We never thought the snow would turn into a blizzard, but sometimes there’s a situation where something happens, like an unprecedented amount of snow. We learned something from the storm. Sometimes there’s a situation that you just can’t control.
“We couldn’t have achieved what we did in such a short time without the help of other fellow municipalities and residents. On the first night of the snow, and the days after, we had a lot of help from city workers from Holon, Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, and all the cities around us clearing the trees. In a hurry, we did as much as we could with them.
“Thank you to the Jerusalemites for their help and patience.”
FOR THE first two and a half weeks after the storm the city mobilized a tree task force of 10 ground teams, accompanied by 200 city gardeners called off their detail to, first, secure the immediate electrical threat while clearing the main roads, then the road leading to schools, and after that, the smaller streets and sidewalks that had been transformed into a green jungle of cracked and mangled heaps of castaway trees and branches.
On a daily basis, since January 1, the workforce is scattered across the city clearing parks and private and open communal areas with 30 dump trucks and 15 tractors equipped with claws to dump the logs into the trucks, alongside 10 to 12 workers pruning and propagating the trees, totaling around 1,500 loads so far.
“But there are still a lot of trees to deal with,” says Natan Florentine, manager of the massive project. “The size of the operation is tremendous. Now we are picking up debris from around private homes. It’s hard to say how much debris is left. All the time we get more and more. It never ends. We will be gathering and mulching for about another month.”
With the bulk of over 10,000 tons of large woody debris, cuttings and remains of trees to deal with, the city placed temporary tree dumps in several open spaces to disperse and grind the trees into pulp for compost to be used in the nation’s parks, as well as for public consumption. Citizens are free to take the mulch from the depot sights for personal use.
Mulching stations are located on Margalit Street in Gilo, the Hizma junction in Pisgat Ze’ev, Heftzadi Street in Givat Shaul, Beit Hakerem next to Shaare Zedek Medical Center on Shmuel Beyt Street, Caspi Street in Talpiot, Zarhi Street in Ramot. and Ir Ganim next to Gan Ha’etz.
At the Beit Hakerem wood shredding yard, twostory- high mounds of gigantic trunks and branches of splintered pine, cypress, Palestine oak, terebinth, carob, olive, fig, pomegranate, and every other tree that grows in the city, fills what used to be the empty lot behind the Beitar football field and continues about half a kilometer down the road.
Picking up a handful of freshly ground, brown mulch, Florentine says, “The broken trees are alive. After running them through the mill, they are steaming hot from the warmth of the earth and the water inside. You can see it, feel it, and smell it.”
Daniela Pearlman, who lives next to the heaps and mounds of broken branches, says, “I see the trees smoking when I pass by. It’s as if they are on fire, but they aren’t. Nature rebuilds itself. You can’t decide if its good or bad, nature decides. Whatever happens just happens.
It could be something good for the trees, to renew them.
It would have been better if they had cut them down before the snow but they didn’t. You never know when the snow is going to come or that it would be so bad.”
Rehavia resident Judy Krauss expresses sorrow for the loss of beauty, saying, “I feel awful about the trees, although I know, if trees are cut, they will, in a way, be better later. They will grow stronger, it’s good, but it all looks so desolate and miserable. I was really sad to see all those trees lying there. We rely on them for shade, and the birds for shelter. We will miss them in the summer.”
While the city workers are out with their chainsaws and clippers, a few Jerusalemites question the wisdom of chopping down so many trees.
Alan Jablovski, a freelance tree expert who has worked 20 years clearing out dead trees and preventive maintenance, says, “The problem is that the city sent maintenance workers out with a job to do, and they have overstepped their mark. I think they are randomly chopping down good trees that should be left alone. They are just coming in and chopping away unnecessarily because they are told to cut the trees, so they just cut, cut, and cut. I’m very troubled by what I am seeing.”
Pointing at a tree that looks like it has been butchered to death, Jablovski continues, “Another problem is that anyone who owns a chainsaw is going out and cutting their trees randomly, incorrectly and illegally. The trees can never recover from such treatment.”
Echoing his concern, Rehavia resident Doug Wright tearfully says, “Look at what the city did to the tree in my front yard. Before the storm I paid a professional to prune the tree for fear of losing it. After the storm he came to check on the tree and gave it an OK. Yesterday, the city workers came and chopped it down. I am very upset with this situation. I am powerless and treeless.”
The trees will be replanted, but not until October 2015, at the end of shmita (the sabbatical year), when the Land of Israel is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting is forbidden.
Florentine is moved by seeing the loss in all its scope, and adds, “The ones that fell need to be replanted but we need money for that. We have shrubs and other smaller foliage; it’s the big trees that line the roads that we need, that we will miss.”
Zoref recommends planting resistant, strong trees that can stand-up under the stress of the snowfall, like Kermes oaks, Syrian junipers, Atlantic pistachio, black or Canary Island pine, but not Jerusalem pines that fall over easily.
Rachal Ginsberg, owner of Hebrew T-shirts, on Hahistadrut Street, says, “We wait a lifetime for a tree to grow and overnight they were all destroyed. I came to work three days after the storm to check on my store and trees had fallen everywhere. The weight of the snow and ice just ripped the branches from their trunks. The tree right in front of my store fell away from my store, just missing the glass door, thank God. The center of town looked like a battleground.
“On the fourth day after the storm the city sent workers downtown to clean up all the fallen and hanging branches. I watched them slowly clean up the mess. The midrahov [pedestrian street] has transformed from a shady green outdoor shopping area to a barren gray landscape.
“Most shoppers won’t notice the transformation now but once the days grow warmer and longer, there will be no shelter from the sun. This must be nature’s way of redesigning a space. What takes years to grow takes but a moment to destroy. Hopefully, before the next storm, we will be more prepared.”
An elephant feast


The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem took a loss of 20 trees and hundreds damaged by the storm.

Zoo spokesperson Sigalit Herz says, “The damage to the trees is much greater than the damage to the animals, but we feel great sadness for those that died.”
Six animals died as a result of the storm, two greater flamingos perished when a huge date tree fell on them, two young collared peccaries died from what Herz thinks may not have been the cold, but from weight of the large group crowding together for warmth, and an elderly “married couple” of hammerhead storks in the swamp aviary froze together.
The bigger animals sheltered in heated rooms and others were taken to enclosed buildings and makeshift shelters. Every building on the grounds was utilized to save the animals.
“But it’s the vegetation that mostly suffered from the wrath of the snow and strong winds,” explains Jon Goldberg, head grounds keeper, who started landscaping the zoo over 20 years ago, and who slept there for the length of the storm, as if it were his second home.
“The snow came down quickly, and in a short amount of time we lost 20 mature trees, and hundreds of others were damaged, but I’d say we had minimal or moderate damage,” he says.
“The advantage we have over the city and country is that, fortunately, we are always pruning for fear of any limb falling on the patrons or animals.
“I think we also suffered minimal loss because of our location, tucked in a valley that blocks the high winds, not like in the gardens of the city.”
It took two weeks to attend to the damaged trees and haul them off to the periphery of the zoo for mulch, though many of the fallen trees were eaten by the animals.
Herz says, “We grow only plants and trees the animals will eat. The elephants and monkeys love eating carobs and olives, and the branches as well. Date trees are good for nesting and enrichment for the animals. We’re starting to replant this week.”
Goldberg says, “The elephants are the ones who benefited the most.
They love eating the trunks, bark, and every part of the tree. We took a mature carob tree to them and they ate the whole thing. Giraffes can spend hours pulling the leaves off with their tongues to eat them, as well as monkeys.
They all enjoyed their extra tree treats.”
He says, “That’s Mother Nature and we can’t fight it. You can only go with it. It will be a blessing in time.
There are places in the zoo that will have no shade and that will be felt.
Every tree has a story


‘We took it hard,” says Alina Berin, executive assistant at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, referring to the damage caused by the storm. “It’s not all about the money; it’s about our destroyed classrooms. But that’s not the real pain; it’s more about the whole point of trying to preserve trees; trees that no longer grow in Israel and the one-of-a-kind from abroad.”

The estimated damage to the trees from the storm is NIS 3.68 million. There were 381 trees affected, and if they recover they will never look the same.
Dr. Ori Fragman Sapir, chief scientist at the gardens, says, “Around 10 percent of the trees were damaged and many of them were the only examples of their species in Israel. Because we grow trees from seeds, from foreign climates, it will take decades before certain species will be seen again at the gardens. For the gardens staff, it has been like losing old friends.”
Many of the damaged trees were 30 to 40 years old, and valued in the tens of thousands of shekels, assessed by the Agriculture Ministry based on each tree’s rarity and age.
Significant ruined trees were the cork oak (Quercus suber) from North Africa; the grey corkwood or bat’s wing coral tree (Erythrina vespertilio) and the red ironbark or mugga (Eucalyptus sideroxylon) from Australia; the native frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum) from New Guinea; and a gardens favorite, a 40-year-old Nile tamarisk (Tamarix nilotica), split right down the middle.
There’s not only a loss of the trees but also a loss to science, in that many of the trees are the only representation of their kind in Jerusalem and Israel.
Sadly, four one-of-a-kind trees were also completely destroyed – the Macedonian oak (Quercus trojana), from southwest Asia, and three from Australia, the Brewster’s cassia (Cassia brewsteri), the Australian teak (Flindersia australis) and the diamond l (leaf (Pittosporum rhombifolium).
Sue Surkes, JBG development director, explains why they experienced such a loss: “Most of our trees are grown from seeds from propagation nurseries at botanical gardens all over the world. Many trees that would otherwise live in their natural habitat without care are foreign here, and all the more vulnerable to a freak weather event.”
With a heavy heart, she continues, “For the people who work here, who know every tree, it’s extremely sad. These are living, breathing presences. The botanical staff knew them personally from the very beginning of their life until they became mature trees.”
Replacing the trees is quite challenging. You can’t go to a nursery and buy a mature specimen, and you can’t ship a mature tree from central Asia. It means waiting several decades for the same species or other species to grow.
Regarding the funding to reforest the gardens, Surkes says, “It’s extremely bad timing. We are eligible for annual funds from the government via the Botanical Gardens Law. In 2011 we received NIS 3.1 million, and in 2013 only NIS 750,000.”
Since 2008, JBG visitor numbers have grown from 80,000 to over 200,000, and the gardens have raised funds to begin two flagship projects, the children’s discovery trail and a center for biodiversity education within an expanded, rebuilt tropical conservatory, and will soon be overhauling the visitor center.
Under the slogan “Plants Grow People,” the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens use plants as tools to help groups in the community from autistic young adults, to ultra-Orthodox men who suffered mental illness, to soldiers who have been traumatized during their service. The Gardens also runs an environmental youth leadership team, and a Jewish-Arab coexistence program.
Surkes says, “But the heart of our activities is the gardens and their plants, which are hurting. We’re doing things right. We have the biggest plant collection in the country. Every respectable large city has a thriving botanical garden. We will be approaching the municipality, Agriculture Ministry, other institutions and private donors for support.
“The tragic part is that we have to start all over,” says Berin.
To donate contact Sue Surkes at or via
“It’s not like the whole tree palette has been changed, it’s still green and beautiful, and shady, but I personally feel it. In the next month we will be planting big trees in their place.”
The zoo plans to purchase trees from local nurseries to replace those that fell.
“Obviously we can’t bring in a 20-year-old carob tree, but will try to bring in the maximum size available from an Israeli nursery. They are not as large as the European nurseries, ours are four to five meters with a 15-cm. truck, which won’t be considered a mature tree but not a sapling either.
“We don’t want our guests or members to think the zoo is destroyed, it’s not like that here. It may be like that in the city, but not the zoo.”
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