War-ravaged northern forests get makeover

JNF offers to help Lebanon turn green as well.

forest fire 88 (photo credit: )
forest fire 88
(photo credit: )
Nature filled the Land of Israel with olive, cypress, tamarisk, acacia, and carob trees. Now, after years of planting pines in their place, the Jewish National Fund is replenishing the trees native to Israel's northern forests which were devastated by the Second Lebanon War. The 34 days of the Second Lebanon War ravaged more than 12,000 dunams of northern forest land that had been painstakingly planted by the JNF as far back as 100 years ago. Hizbullah's rockets sparked more than 800 forest fires in the North. The dry summer heat and winds fed the flames, forcing forest rangers to wage daily battles. The JNF has salvaged opportunities from the scorched ruins of those forests by implementing a new design for Israel's landscape that will include a greater variety of flora and fauna than ever before. "This is not like any other forest. I grew these trees. Out of my own hands they came and went into the ground. I feel like their father," said Yossi Karni, who has worked as a forest ranger in the Biriya forest, one of the hardest-hit areas of the war, for more than 24 years. "Now I am planting new trees, new children. I have much more knowledge and resources to make this crop better... It is a second chance." In 1901, when the JNF first began its forest projects in Israel, the pine tree was one of the few plants that the organization could afford. Decades later, Theodor Herzl's famed "blue boxes" have done their work. The JNF now has millions in funds that they use for various projects. Effi Stenzler, the world chairman of the JNF said that in the coming years, they will invest NIS 60-70 million in replenishing the forests in the north. Those funds will help pay for new technology to plant and foster saplings, state-of-the-art equipment to help maintain the forest, and rangers to help patrol and guard the area. "The recovery of this area is very very close to our hearts," said Stenzler. "Fires know no borders, and many of the fiercest blazes began on the Lebanese side and crossed over into Israel. Looking across the border now, we still see the devastation in Lebanon." Stenzler said that the JNF would be willing to donate funds and expertise to the Lebanese to help them replant their forest across the border. "War and rockets don't recognize addresses. It is important for the world to know that we would be willing to help the Lebanese," said Stenzler. If Lebanon would accept the assistance, it would be the first time that the JNF provided funding to a Middle East Project with a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. In order to draft the current plan for the northern forests, the JNF consulted with a wide array of experts in the field of forestation. "Coupled with the new technology and equipment, we can afford to do things that we have never done before," said Karni. Already, the JNF has planted cedar and carob trees in areas that were previously dominated by pine forests. Pine trees have relatively short life spans of 60-70 years, and their fallout increases the acidity level of the earth around them. The new foliage being planted is being done with a greater eye toward diversity of plant species, so that Israeli tourists will stop complaining of seeing "nothing but boring pine," said Karni. The JNF has already completed work on 10 percent of the forest area devastated by fire and local heads say it will take anywhere between four to five years to finish clearing and planting the land. In addition, some stretches of forest are being left to regenerate on their own, so that rangers can observe the natural selection of the plants there. The full recovery of the forest will take 50-60 years, said forest rangers, who added that it could take even longer if new fires were to burn through the area. While Karni and the rest of the rangers are doing all they can to prevent new fires from breaking out, there are some flare-ups that they might be impossible to guard against - including a rumored war in the north. "We, like everyone else, have been hearing the rumors of another war," said Karni. "We can only hope that it will not happen." Already, though, work has begun on clearing away brush and low hanging branches so that in the case of a future war, fires will not spread as quickly. Many of the same Golani units who fought in the Second Lebanon War are now being rotated into the northern forests to help with some of the manual labor. The irony was not lost on one group of soldiers Wednesday as they toiled under the morning sun. "We, the soldiers, are clearing this away for a future war. We don't just fight terrorism. We fight fires," said one young man from Hadera.