Galilee forests will take 60 years to recover

JNF says five decades of planting "went up in smoke."

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The drive along the dirt paths that wind through the Naftali Mountains Forest offers stark evidence of the devastation inflicted by the month-long rocket bombardment of the North. Jerusalem pine and Italian cypress trees are reduced to charred black trunks. The reddish hue of burned leaves covers large swaths of the countryside. According to the Jewish National Fund, the restoration of northern forests will cost some NIS 200 million. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority estimates that some 80,000 dunams (20,000 acres) of forest and pasture land were damaged, with some 750,000 hand-planted trees destroyed by fire. JNF foresters have spent more than five decades planting and nurturing the forests, said Paul Ginsberg, director of afforestation for the JNF's Northern District. "Now their work has literally gone up in smoke." The footsteps of JNF personnel kick up a fine dust as they walk in the Naftali Mountains, some 70 percent of whose 22 square kilometers is woodland. Everything stands intact, but frozen, dead. "It's a heart-breaker," Ginsberg said, waving a hand at the silent burned forest. "Each of these trees was carefully planted by human hands." While the JNF's 100 volunteer firefighters - a combined force of local Jews, Arabs and Druse - battled the blazes valiantly, resources were simply inadequate. The JNF was prepared for the standard summer rhythm of one or two daily forest fires, but the rockets ignited dozens each day. In the Naftali Mountains, firefighting crews were forced to retreat twice as advancing flames overtook their defensive line. The fire was only halted at the third defensive line. The recovery of the lost woodlands will be slow. According to JNF world chairman Effie Stenzler, "It will take at least 50-60 years before the forests return the way they were before the war." Yet Ginsberg is optimistic. Some 200,000 seedlings in JNF nurseries are already being prepared for planting, and the JNF was turning to donors and government agencies to help support the recovery. The restoration plan, he said, "will reflect the JNF's new focus on sustainable development." Diversifying the flora in the forests will make them more resilient, according to Ginsberg, who plans to line the mountainside forests with cypress and eucalyptus trees, which burn slower than pine. This strategy will make extinguishing future forest fires easier and minimize future losses. The restoration plan will also help the local economy by allotting recreational spaces for local communities and increasing eco-tourism. Until the outbreak of hostilities in mid-July, some one million Galilee residents were earning their income from tourism. Asked what the JNF wants for its reforestation efforts, Ginsberg gave a long list of equipment that needed to be replaced and improved, along with items for fire-fighting in the future. JNF was already at work expanding its stockpile of flame retardant. However, as the destruction of the past summer has shown, the JNF Northern District's most urgent need is, simply, "more firetrucks." JNF has also redefined its short-term strategy to deal with the new challenges. According to Stenzler, "Bringing the green back to the Galilee, along with developing the Negev, are the goals JNF has set itself for the coming years."