Sunday, July 03, 2016 1:58 PM
“Yatir Forest is a sort of miracle. It grows in an area that is beyond the traditional limits of afforestation, where the average precipitation is only 250-275 mms."
On Tuesday, June 28, the ambassadors of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland visited Yatir Forest in the Western Negev to learn about KKL-JNF’s internationally acclaimed research on forestry in semi-arid regions.
“My grandfather, who was Jewish, was a farmer who planted trees for fruit and as a hobby. He was the only member of his family who survived the Holocaust. Although he very much wanted to visit Israel, the Communist regime did not allow him to do so. I feel that by planting a tree in Israel today, I am closing a circle.”
His Excellency Ivo Schwarz, the ambassador of the Czech Republic to Israel, was speaking at a tree planting ceremony that culminated a visit to Yatir Forest by the ambassadors of the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary and Poland.
These four countries are members of the Visegrad Group, and a day with KKL-JNF was what Ambassador Schwarz chose to celebrate the conclusion of the Czech Republic’s term as president of the group before the beginning of Poland’s term.
The Visegrad Group reflects the efforts of the countries of the Central European region to work together in a number of fields of common interest. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have always been part of a single civilization, sharing cultural and intellectual values as well as common roots in diverse religious traditions, which they wish to preserve and strengthen.
The visit focused on KKL-JNF’s internationally acclaimed research on forestry in semi-arid regions, which may provide the world with some innovative ways of mitigating the effects of climate change. In the words of KKL-JNF Chief Forester Dr. David Brand, “the knowledge and know-how that KKL-JNF has amassed is in high demand throughout the world. It is only thanks to KKL-JNF’s investment in forestry research and development that we are able to share our accomplishments with colleagues around the world who may be able to implement our findings in their countries.”
The day began at Forester’s House in Yatir, where the ambassadors were greeted by KKL-JNF Director of Public Relations Elisha Mizrahi and the Director of KKK-JNF’s Negev Heights and Arava Region Amir Mazor. As Elisha and Amir explained, Yatir Forest is the largest planted woodlands in Israel and an example of a forest in a semi-arid region. When the forest, which spreads out over an area of 60,000 dunams, was first planted in the 1960s, the valleys were left for agriculture, and Aleppo pines were planted on the rocky slopes and broadleaf trees in the valleys.
Elisha introduced Yatir Head Forester Abed Abu-Alguian, a Bedouin Israeli who was practically born in the forest, who told the group that local farmers and communities are part of the forest’s sustainable mosaic. Almost all the forest workers are Bedouins or Palestinians. Shepherds from the Palestinian Authority graze their flocks in the forest, which helps prevent fires, and tourists come here from all over. Amir also told the group about future plans for Foresters House, which will become a special type of environmental school where students will come for 3-4 days during which they will study ecology, hike in the area and work in the forest.
From Forester’s House the group proceeded to the Weizmann Institute Yatir Forest research site, where they were greeted by the head of the project, Professor Dan Yakir, KKL-JNF Chief Forester Dr. David Brand and Deputy Director of KKL-JNF’s Southern Region Itzik Moshe. The research site is part of a global network called Fluxnet, and is the only station in a semi-arid region and in the Middle East.
“Yatir Forest is a sort of miracle,” Profesor Yakir said. “It grows in an area that is beyond the traditional limits of afforestation, where the average precipitation is only 250-275 mms. We wanted to understand how and why KKL-JNF has been so successful in such an unlikely setting.
“One of our most surprising findings was that CO2 sequestration in Yatir is similar to that of the forests of Northern Europe. Another interesting study relates to segmentation of the hydrological balance for determining effective management of the water economy. We found that KKL-JNF, through trial and error, has achieved optimal utilization of almost 100% of the water. We also recently discovered another yet another amazing finding – a forest like Yatir in a semi-arid region changes the local water circulation interface and increases moisture. Yatir Forest is very small, but it is a model that could be applied to a forest planting project in the Sahel region in Africa or in the expanses of Australia. This is a finding that could be extremely important in terms of the world’s ability to combat global warming.”
His Excellency Jacek Chodorowicz, the Polish ambassador to Israel, said that this was the first time that he realized just how much KKL-JNF invests in research and implementation of sustainable forestry. “I am also very impressed by how much the local communities, particularly the Bedouins, are involved. On the surface, our countries in Europe don’t have a water problem now, but unfortunately, things are changing due to global warming. It’s always wonderful to spend time with KKL-JNF people.”
His Excellency Andras Kovacs, the Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Hungary, agreed. “I’m deeply impressed by what I’ve seen today, it’s a great initiative of my Czech colleague. Before today I had no idea of the sort of research that KKL-JNF is involved in, and now I have a new perspective on its global implications.”
After the visit to the research station, KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol Andy Michelson invited the ambassadors “to help us make Yatir Forest bigger and more beautiful by planting four terebinth and almond trees. Sharon Geva, the Head of KKL-JNF’s German Desk, said that trees symbolize “a connection to Israel, our hope for peace, but most of all, the bond between people.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Ambassador Schwarz of the Czech Republic said that he wanted to mark the conclusion of the Czech term as president of the Visegrad Group in a special way. “Rather than speaking about the past, I wanted to do something future-oriented. I remembered planting trees in the Carmel Forest with Czech volunteers, and that was the seed of this idea. It wasn’t easy to coordinate with four ambassadors and all the top KKL-JNF professionals, but here we are!”
After planting his tree, His Excellency Peter Hulenyi, the Slovakian ambassador to Israel, said that his grandmother was also Jewish. “I remember how she used to put money in the Blue Box for Israel. Due to the Communist regime, she was never able to come here herself. It’s very emotional for me to actually plant a tree here, something my grandmother could only do virtually. One has to see what KKL-JNF has done in Israel with one’s own eyes in order to grasp the extent of the transformation the land has undergone.”
The day concluded with a visit to the Yatir Winery, where the ambassadors tasted Yatir’s world-famous wines and celebrated the conclusion of the Czech presidential term with an excellent lunch.