Forest fires in Israel are a common occurrence; however, in the summer of 2006 a real drama took place when large afforested areas in the Galilee were burned to the ground during the war. The damage inflicted upon KKL-JNF forests and open areas in the north is enormous and unprecedented in scope. According to an initial survey, more than 12,000 dunams (1,200 hectares) of forests and an additional 8,000 dunams (800 hectares) of brush and pasture land were burned. The areas that suffered the most serious damage were in the Naftali Ridge and in Biriya Forest in the Upper Galilee.
The large-scale destruction was clearly evident immediately after the war and KKL-JNF is facing a tough challenge of recovery. It is planning to replant the woodlands that were burned down according to sustainable, ecological and socio-cultural principles.
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Namely, preservation and cultivation of forest resources for the sake of future generations, while establishing natural renewal procedures, taking into consideration the various types of foliage and wildlife (ecological health), as well as community and society needs.
The cost of rehabilitating the damaged areas is valued at millions of NIS, required for preparing seedlings, forest treatment, and preparing the soil for renewed planting. Some 50-60 years will be needed in order to rehabilitate the burned forests and bring them back to their former glory.
Rehabilitating a burned forest – The KKL-JNF concept
The mode of action taken in the past for rehabilitating burned forests in Israel was primarily based on other methods practiced in other Mediterranean countries, as it lacked the necessary local knowledge and experience. This method primarily included felling and removal of the tree trunks from the afflicted area. Evacuation of the trunks was essentially carried out manually and sometimes by limited mechanized means. The branches that remained in the area were collected into piles and burned in a controlled manner.
KKL-JNF has gained experience in rehabilitating fire-stricken forests. Research carried out at the aftermath of large forest fires in the past two decades – the fire on the Carmel Mountain in 1989 and the fire that broke out in the Jerusalem Corridor in 1995, contributed towards better understanding of the processes that occur following forest fires. As a result, KKL-JNF Forest Division acquired the knowledge to renew and rehabilitate burned forests.
The method used to renew the forest depends on its assigned purpose and the extent of natural renewal left after the fire. Renewal and rehabilitation of a burned forest can either be carried out naturally, artificially, or by a combination of both methods. Natural forest trees (as opposed to trees in man-planted forests) have a limited ability to grow back from branches and trunks, and a higher ability to grow back from the basis of the trunk. Even the main pine species in a man-planted forest – Jerusalem Pine, Cyprus Pine and the common Cypress trees - have a natural renewal capability, yet their renewal derives from seeds, as revealed in a series of researches and observations carried out in Israel and in other Mediterranean countries.
Often a forest can only be renewed by the replanting of trees, yet when the renewal process from stems and seeds is successful, and there is no wish to add further species to the existing ones, natural renewal of a forest is the preferred method.
KKL-JNF's approach is based on a combination of natural renewal methods and the cultivation of natural forestry remains. In places that do not have sufficient remains, rehabilitation is carried out by full or partial re-plantation, while using a range of forest species. Left over cuttings are either crushed and used as organic compost, or removed from the area and marketed to the carpentry industry. In any event, burning cuttings in the forest, a method once common for treating left over cuttings, is no longer incorporated.
Advanced mechanized means are operated for carrying out the various processes, and maximal efforts are made to minimize the damage to the infrastructure and soil. One of the reasons for felling trees and thinning them out is to prevent forest pesticides from developing. This process also minimizes the dry biomass in the new forest, and thus the risk of future forest fires is reduced.
When the burned trunks and branches are left untreated in the forest, their decomposition takes years and can serve as flammable materials that could turn future fires into a catastrophe.
The first measures taken to rehabilitate the forests burned during last summer's war in the north, including initial plantings, will be carried out this winter. However, most work will be conducted in the coming years. The first phase of the rehabilitation campaign is expected to last five years, yet 50 years will elapse before the forests resume their former glamor– that prevalent prior to the war.