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Operation Northern Renewal - FAQS

FAQs on the Northern Forests

Q. How many trees were lost during the war with Hezbollah?
A. It is estimated that 1 million trees were completely destroyed and an additional 1 million trees were so badly damaged, they will not survive.

Q. How many acres were damaged during the war?
A. About 10,000 acres of hand-planted forests were destroyed by the rocket fires; about 70% of the Naftali Forest and large swaths of the Biriya Forest.

Q. Were these natural forests?
A. No, Israel was not blessed with natural forests; its forests are all hand-planted. When the pioneers of the State arrived, they were greeted by barren land. To claim the land that had been purchased with the coins collected in JNF blue and white pushkes, the next order of business was to plant trees among the rocky hillsides and sandy soil. Since it was established in 1901, JNF has planted more than 240 million trees all over the State of Israel.

Q. Aside from tree damage, what other environmental damage occurred? What does the loss of trees mean to the environment?
A. Aside from destroying trees, the fires also degraded the soil quality which took 50 years to develop.  Much of the nutrient-rich topsoil was burnt away, and, in some areas, the soil was baked into a hard outer crust preventing the infiltration of rainwater and increasing the chances for soil erosion, floods, and mudslides. Additional soil loss is expected, mainly during the first year, until herbaceous cover develops.

Destruction of the forests also altered the food chain and destroyed the habitat of forest-dwelling wildlife. Nesting and roosting sites, forage and food sources, dens and lairs were all decimated. While some larger animals managed to escape the fires, most slow-moving animals, reptiles and insects were killed. The habitat must be restored in order to facilitate nature’s healing process.

Tourism, the lifeblood of the north, slumped by 25% during the war. JNF forests are a main tourist attraction and boost the local economy with the traffic they bring in. For tourism to thrive, the forests must be restored.

There is also increased risk of invasive plant species overtaking areas, and the possible depletion of the seed bank and regeneration potential within the area.

Q. What are the plans to replant?
A. JNF’s Forest Department, together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Ministry of Environmental Defense, and the Ministry of Agriculture, has turned the disaster into an opportunity and challenge to implement the principles of sustainable development and sustainable forest management as it seeks to re-green the north.

The multi-faceted plan -- defined by ecological, social, economic, and intergenerational principles so as to answer all needs of the society -- includes working with natural systems and the enhancement of biological diversity as a central guideline; preserving the size and quality of the current forest inventory for future generations; advancing the economic use of the forest for tourism, wood production, pasture etc; and keeping access open and free for all to use. As the plan proceeds, a research program entitled “Rehabilitation of Mediterranean Ecosystems in Northern Israel Following Missile-Ignited Wildfires” will be conducted and shared with the world.

Much of the forest area in Biriya has steep slopes. It is important to make sure that soil erosion is not sped up by logging too many trees at once. Therefore, many of the burnt trees are being left to see if they reseed and what natural vegetation occurs. About 250 acres will be cleared for immediate replanting and the clearing, pruning, preparing, and planting is being done by the thousands of volunteers who have come forward looking to help. People all over the country, if not the world, are identifying with this tragedy. It is important to keep them as stakeholders in this endeavor.

Each year will bring with it additional clearing and replanting. It is estimated that the initial replanting process will take five years and about $40 million; it will take 50 years for the forests to be as they were. The process will also include the maintenance of firebreaks -- geographical gaps within forests that block the progress of fires -- and salvage cutting which decreases density and vermin, helps control forest fires, and rids the forest of unhealthy trees that have less reserve and are unable to fight off parasites and disease.

Q. What types of trees will be planted?
A. When and where replanting occurs, some of the non-indigenous pines -- brought over by the Eastern Europeans from the Black Forest as they grew quickly -- will be replaced by a mixed conifer/native hardwood forest for ecological reasons: they are more stable, allow for a greater level of biological diversity of the forest inventory and a higher degree of resistance to fire and disease. Species include the native oaks, carob, redbud, almond, pear, hawthorn, and the exotic Atlantic cedar, cypress, stone pine, brutia pine and canary island pine.

Burnt stands of brutia pine, more resilient than the Jerusalem pine, will be allowed to reseed themselves and where deemed necessary, additional broadleaves will be planted to diversify the mix.

Some of the trees will be fruit- or berry-bearing. This will create more mast and nesting opportunities for wildlife -- which would include various bird species, wild boar, gazelles, rock rabbits, foxes, tortoises and various reptiles -- as well as chances for the visiting public to enjoy these fruits.

Q. Why were the pines planted in the first place?
A. The Jerusalem pine in particular was chosen because it is native to Israel and a very adaptable species, growing from the moist, cool north to the dry south, in a large variety of soil types. Other pine species were later used in the hope of developing a viable wood-based resource for Israel's young developing economy in the 1950's-1960's.

Q. Is this diversification process only taking place up north?
A. No. It has been in practice nationally for over 15 years with an ever increasing percentage of inventory characterized as "mixed conifer/broadleaf forests."

Q. What ecological advantages will we see as a result of using native
species for the reforestation effort in the north?

A. We will see a greater level of biological diversity of our forest inventory and a higher degree of resistance to fire and diseases. Native species will also contribute habitat and food sources for native wildlife.

Q. What are the environmental impacts of planting non-native forests?
A. Non-native or exotic trees are used extensively the world over in commercial forest plantations, thus proving themselves as a valuable contribution to a nation's forest based economy. But some species can become real problems and are know as “invasive species,” spreading over the landscape and taking over the ecological niches of native species. Therefore, care must be taken when selecting a non-native species for planting.

Q. How long will it take for these forests to rejuvenate?
A. It took between 50-60 years of hard work to plant, create and tend the forests that were destroyed; it will take another 50-60 years to recreate what was lost.

Q. What are the benefits of trees?

1. Trees help to offset human carbon dioxide emissions by absorbing CO2 -- the primary greenhouse gas and a main cause of global warming -- from the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. About 50% of plant dry matter is carbon.
2. Trees lower energy costs and consumption by cooling buildings in the summer and protecting against strong winds in the winter. A building that is surrounded by trees requires less air conditioning during the hot months and less heat during the cold months.

3. Trees improve air quality by filtering particles and pollutants from the atmosphere and absorbing odors.

4. Trees prevent soil erosion, flooding, and landslides. Roots hold soil in place, increase soil permeability, and absorb water, reducing runoff and flooding after rainstorms.

5. Trees provide food and a safe habitat for wildlife.

6. Trees act as sound barriers, helping to muffle urban noise.

Trees beautify their surroundings, increase property value, and provide peace and tranquility. Studies have shown that patients recover more quickly from surgery when their hospital rooms afford a view of trees.


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