Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Seeing the Forest for the Trees

By Y. Ben Avi

Until a decade ago people driving through Shaar Hagai, the steep hill that begins right after the turnoff to Beit Shemesh, on the way to Jerusalem could enjoy the sight of the pine and cypress trees crowning the area hilltops, and perhaps take a side-trip to them for a picnic. But since then the trees served as firewood for a huge wildfire in the area. Perhaps someone tossed a burning cigarette out the window or pieces of broken glass the sun turned into matches, but at the end of a day of flames all that remained of Bab el-Wad was a series of bald hilltops. Many of the trees that survived suffer from decay as a result of a coccid (scale insect) that has afflicted them. The hillsides are still green, but not as before.

Haifa residents also went through a similar experience when they saw how the Carmel changed from green to black splotches. A large fire that blazed in the area several years ago left an enormous hole in what was to many a panorama they remembered since their childhood days. Yet some ecologists see these fires as opportunities to improve forest design in Israel.

Trees are planted in Israel according to a national forestation master plan used to determine which type of forests will be where. For instance, if the plan in a certain area calls for a forest for recreational purposes, trees of a certain species will be grown. In another location where the forest is designed for scenic purposes, the variety of trees chosen will be based on aesthetic considerations.

According to a new approach the experts are suggesting now, the hillsides of our Land will not be covered with yet more pine forests, but rather with woodlands resembling the indigenous forests of Eretz Yisroel. The forests that covered Eretz Yisroel in ancient times consisted of broadleaf trees, not conifers. These trees became extinct due to uncontrolled cutting and grazing.

Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, Israel's leading afforestation organization, is wary of this approach. Based on years of experience, the organization opposes allowing conifers to disappear, insisting that the range of ecological aspects and every tree species at the foresters' disposal must be taken into consideration.

Dr. Ami Zahavi and David Brant from KKL's Tree Improvement and Propagation Division maintain that major changes must also take place slowly. Pine trees still offer many advantages, says Dr. Zahavi. "It is clear to me that without a skeleton of conifers there will not be a forest."

Brant claims that pine trees play an important role in the natural rehabilitation of the forest. He points to the current state of the burned forest in the Judean Mountains. Trees indigenous to Eretz Yisroel—arbutus, oak, hawthorn and others—rejuvenated from the earth, but it was the pine trees that made it possible for them to sprout by protecting the ground beneath them for years.

"Our goal is to variegate the forest, but cautiously to avoid causing ecological contamination (i.e. pest proliferation) and not bring in types of trees sensitive to diseases and pests," says Dr. Zahavi. "We are investing money and great research efforts into bringing in natural predators for known pests. Recently we found that one of the specimens of the cedar forests in Biriya is suitable for planting in additional locations. The seeds from this tree are sufficient for growing 2,000 cedar trees annually.

"The pine-nut tree, one of the better trees for the forest, does not grow well in limy soil. Recently a specimen with a high tolerance for lime was found that will fill the pine niche."

Dr. Zahavi says that even a type of pine resistant to the type of coccid that wiped out the pine trees at Shaar Hagai can be found. "Today we are sure the Jerusalem Pine can be replanted without risking this deadly coccid," he says.

KKL nurseries produce one and a half million seedlings per year. According to Brant, today there is a new trend toward planting a higher percentage of broadleaf trees. Only 60 percent of those planted today are conifers and these, too, include various species. The rest are species of sumac, oak, carob, storax, Syrian pear, etc., all of which are broadleaf trees. Today, he says, the trend is also to acclimate more types of blossoming trees. The eucalyptus, which has become one of Israel's distinguishing features, has species whose colorful bloom captures observers' attention.

"Today, for instance, we won't plant trees originally from the Judean Mountains in the Galilee and vice versa. Therefore we gather seeds, document their origins and designate them for areas with similar ecological characteristics. This prevents genetic contamination and precisely matches the tree to the area. Our problem is how to find the right trees for the various ecological niches in Israel and how to cope with the pests clinging to Israeli forest trees."

KKL gives out some 200,000 seedlings for free every year, half of them seedlings for flower-bearing eucalyptus trees. But it will be some time until we start to see blossoming stands of trees. "The almond tree was the first tree KKL planted. It is the tree associated with blossoming trees," says Zahavi. "But our experience shows that if the almond trees are not taken care of they will deteriorate and their bloom will diminish. You can see almond trees blossoming in many places, but they are not wild trees. Much effort goes into the blossoming. Blossoming stands of trees demand much greater care, and forestry resources are limited. Some of the failures in forestation and landscape gardening stem from the fact that many planners plant trees based on wishful thinking rather than knowledge.

"We cannot take care of individual trees even if they are very important and majestic. Here and there is someone who's crazy over this who takes care of trees like these. This kind of rehabilitation was done for a large jujube tree near Kfar Chadid, but that was an exception."

The Ministry of Agriculture has a department that deals with acclimating trees and plants from other parts of the world. This is the source of many of the plants and trees at nurseries. An experiment is underway at Mishmar HaNegev to evaluate fifty types of flowering trees.

Commercial forests are also part of the Israeli landscape. In the past attempts were made to grow poplars as timber trees for industrial use. Recently a similar attempt was made with the paulownia tree, a type of tree that grows at an astonishing rate. Unfortunately its wood is too soft and few factories in Israel are willing to use it.

KKL says the forest of the future will differ not just in the species of trees but in the way they are cared for. "Today we are more sophisticated and more particular in selecting tree species and methods of care," says Dr. Zahavi. "It must be kept in mind that in Israel [trees] are only irrigated in their first year at most and then they must manage on their own. Our main contribution is in the selection of suitable species and better thinning methods. We want to see pine trees in a density of ten specimens per dunam (40 per acre), and beneath them arbutus, almond and other trees."


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