Israel's underdeveloped lands are disappearing fast

The loss of virgin land to construction and agriculture is among the main threats to ecological systems and species diversity in Israel.

A piece of land is seen in the Sea of Galilee (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
A piece of land is seen in the Sea of Galilee
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Every year in Israel, undeveloped land with a total area the size of the town of Karmiel becomes built-up, and natural and forested areas equivalent to Herzliya are given over to agriculture, according to a report released yesterday by Hamaarag, Israel’s National Ecosystem Assessment Program, part of The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, operating under the auspices of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The report says that the rate of change from undeveloped areas to built-up areas between 2014 and 2017 was the highest in the past twenty years, with the rate of loss of undeveloped areas particularly high in the center and north of Israel.
The State of Nature Report 2018, authored by Dr. Michal Sorek and Dr. Idan Shapira, presents processes and trends in Israel's ecological systems. The main phenomena observed indicate continuing damage to natural ecological systems, continually expanding encroachment, direct and indirect, on undeveloped areas, and a growing threat to biological diversity in Israel.
The loss of virgin land to construction and agriculture is among the main threats to ecological systems and species diversity in Israel, the report finds. Where development and construction take place, populations of invasive animal and bird species establish themselves, and invasive birds penetrate territories distant from settled areas. According to the report, 30% of the 213 bird species in Israel are in danger of extinction. The Israeli gazelle population has shrunk in the past decade, while the populations of the Dorcas gazelle, acacia gazelle and Nubian ibex are stable but small and cut off from other populations, and hence vulnerable. These species are endangered outside of Israel, and their local preservation is thus of world importance. Otters are also endangered in Israel, and have disappeared in many areas.
The report's authors do point to some encouraging trends. For example, the condition of the coral reef in Eilat, the most northerly reef in the world, has improved over the past decade, while areas designated as nature reserves grew by 5% and national parks grew by 6% between 2015 and 2017, although large parts are controlled by the IDF and are in fact firing ranges.
"The Hamaarag program monitoring the natural environment in Israel over the years is an extremely important program for the country," says Israel Nature and Parks Authority director Shaul Goldstein. "I should be very glad if the government of Israel were to adopt Hamaarag as an official national program, and provide a budget for it as part of the fixed state budget so that we should not have to use good people who help us every time. You have to bear in mind that Israel is a crowded country with big construction and housing problems, and this must not come at the expense of undeveloped areas. The Hamaarag report therefore represents an extremely important tool for planning for the preservation of undeveloped areas, so that our children and grandchildren too will have places to explore and see genuine nature. The report shows clearly that the challenges are mounting, and the Nature and Parks Authority's ability to cope is very much dependent on outside factors."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 31, 2019
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