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
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
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
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."