International Forestry Experts Learn about KKL-JNF Forest Management in Israel

Monday, September 26, 2016 8:30 AM

“With all the experience on the ground that KKL-JNF has had over the last 100 years, there is a huge opportunity to build on KKL-JNF’s experiences."

Four senior international forestry experts spent four days, from September 19-22, in Israel observing and learning KKL-JNF's work in addressing issues facing forestry in the 21st century, including in dryland afforestation, watershed management, land rehabilitation management, urban forestry, water harvesting, wetlands and eco-tourism.

“This is a continuation of a relationship that we have been building over several years. Their visit is very important for us, to have them see what we are doing here in Israel professionally. We can share, we can cooperate, we can do good things,” said Karine Bolton-Laor, KKL-JNF Director of International Relations and Conferences, who accompanied the group on their tour.

The study tour included visits to projects which demonstrate both low-tech and high-tech solutions that KKL-JNF is using in their forestry, she noted.

“That is what makes us unique. We don’t only have high-tech know-how, but we are also able to offer low-tech solutions to the developing world,” she said.

Participating in the delegation were Professor Eduardo Rojas, of the Polytechnical University of Valencia, formerly Assistant Deputy Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and Chair of the Spanish Board of Foresters; Andrew Wardell, Senior Manager in Research Capacity and Partnership Development at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR); Sven Walter, Program Officer and Liaison for Land, Security and Resilience at the Global Mechanism of UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); and Marc Parfondry, Forestry expert on the Climate Change and Resilience team,  in the Forest Policy and Resources Division of FAO.

“I was not too surprised by the typical Mediterranean landscape here, but one difference was the intense agricultural land irrigation,” said Wardell. “One of my hopes is to see what Israel has been able to do in the dryland forests in relation to our research in West Africa, though Israel is different because it has lots of infrastructure.”

The group began their first day of their study tour with a briefing by Hanoch Tzoref, KKL-JNF Forest Supervisor in the Jerusalem region, and KKL-JNF Chief Forester Dr. David Brand at the KKL-JNF offices in Eshta’ol, where they were also greeted by KKL-JNF Central Region Director Haim Messing.

“We view your visit here as very important because we believe in the exchange of ideas which can help all of us work more efficiently,” Messing said. “We deal with many issues here.”
Brand noted in his presentation that although Israel is small in landmass size, the country has a wide diversity of vegetation and climates, including Mediterranean scrubland, which is dry and subhumid; Asian steppes which are semi-arid and arid; and Sahara-Arabian desert, which is a hyper arid zone.

Since its founding in 1901, KKL-JNF has planted over 2.6 million trees with forests now covering 160,000 hectares of Israeli soil -eight percent of the total area of Israel, he continued, although half of the country is desert. Indeed, KKL-JNF has succeeded in restoring a landscape that had been left scarred and bare from centuries of over-use of natural resources by the various empires and peoples who conquered the land.

“The landscape you see here today is completely different than what you would have seen 100 years ago when Mark Twain wrote that he “hardly saw a tree or a shrub,” on his visit here,” Brand said. “There is no natural forest left in Israel. The Greeks, Romans, Turks, - anyone who occupied the land, cut down all the trees. They didn’t care about the area.”

KKL-JNF over the years has adapted itself to the country's changing needs and increased scientific knowledge and now is planting 20 percent conifers and 80 percent local broadleaves including local oak, acacia and carob trees, he said - the opposite of what was done previously. While in the early years the main concern was to prevent landscape erosion and provide employment, in 1990 KKL-JNF implemented an updated policy. They have also gone from planting dense, monoculture forests to mixed planting combined with patch planting which is easier to manage, he said.

“We are starting to see natural regeneration of local broadleaves. Now when we thin out the forest we give preference to local broadleaves so there will be here a more natural mix of species with Aleppo Pines outside of the planted forests,” he said.

In 2012, Israel instituted for the first time a comprehensive plan for a new forest management policy whose main goal is to now supply ecosystem services to the country’s citizens, provide places of leisure and recreation as well as conservation and restoration of heritage landscapes and landscape diversity while at the same time combating land erosion.

“One-third of the world population lives in dry, arid regions,” Brand concluded.  “We in KKL-JNF Israel have knowledge on how to deal with such issues and we are very happy to share it with other organizations and institutions.”

Bolton-Laor noted that KKL-JNF has created a very strong bond with its supporters abroad through tree planting, but now rather than to keep planting trees, the next challenge is to manage and maintain the forests that have already been created and make them accessible and appropriate for the country’s current needs.

On a field tour to Martyrs Forest in the Jerusalem hills, Hanoch Tzoref presented the implementation of Israel's new forest management policy in terms of goal-oriented forests and adaptive management. On a visit to Sataf, he presented issues of urban and periurban forestry at the Sataf community forest, which is dedicated to the reconstruction of an ancient Roman agricultural village and its two springs.

“The heritage here belongs to everyone. There were lots of people who lived here during the Roman period,” he said. He noted that both Jews and Arabs regard the water from the Sataf springs as holy and come there for blessings to help in conceiving and during pregnancy.

He noted that almost between two to three million people visit KKL-JNF forests in the Jerusalem area alone every year.

“Fifteen years ago most of my work was planting and taking care of the trees,” he said. “Now there is a huge change and my work is mainly management.”

It is indeed time, the visitors agreed, to teach people how to become “stewards of the forest.”

“I have known from several sources of the development in Israel. The KKL-JNF afforestation is very impressive. Israel is one of the few examples in dry lands where you have reforestation,” said Rojas. “It is important what they are doing with their knowledge. Many of the challenges present here are shared around the Mediterranean and it is always interesting to share experiences.”

Viewing the Kisalon valley and the modern day moshav of Kisalon, Tzoref pointed out the ancient terraces on the north face of the slope, which is more protected from the sun and wind.
“There is a lot of history here and there,” he said. “This is where the ancient city of Kisalon was, which according to the Bible, was one of the resting places of the Ark of the Covenant. And it is also important from an ecological point of view. We have to decide what its main land designation is.”

KKL-JNF uses its years of accumulated knowledge on where people like to picnic and where there is unique vegetation to determine which lands will be designated for leisure use and which will be designated for special vegetation, noted Brand.

“We used to think we have to manage every acre all the time, but now that we understand that the trees will manage by themselves, we don’t have to manage everything,” he said.

A visit to the KKL-JNF Beit Nehemia Seed Center provided the foresters with an opportunity to see some of the techniques the unit uses to harvest, sort, store, and pre-germinate seeds in order to meet the production demands of KKL-JNF’s three nurseries in the Northern, Central, and Southern regions.

They were met at the seed center by Hagay Yavlovich, Director of KKL-JNF's Seeds and Nursery Division, and Aviv Eisenband, KKL-JNF Director of Forestry and Professional Development.

Yavlovich said that his four-person team collects some 1-2 tons of seeds each year, extracting from them some 4-5 tons of fruits. Foresters also help in the collection of the seeds.

The seed center provides some 1 million seedlings per year. The team selects the “elite” trees that are less susceptible to disease or forest fires to harvest the seeds from, Yavlovich noted.

“Our main goal is the survival of the forest,” he concluded.

KKL-JNF policy of diverse landscape management is about sustainable landscape management and knowing how to use landscapes for different functions, noted Walter as their first study day neared its conclusion.

“You need a strong support system to place a seed and generate strong reforestation. It can’t happen in one day,” said Walter, noting that the discussions they had had over the day were important for the sharing and exchanging of ideas. “We have seen so much on our first day here. With all the experience on the ground that KKL-JNF has had over the last 100 years, there is a huge opportunity to build on KKL-JNF’s experiences.”

Commenting on the efficiency with which KKL-JNF acts as forest administrator in every aspect from seed management to the recreational component, Parfondry noted that he was very impressed with what he had seen, including the work done to prevent forest fires.

“The forest here is multipurpose, and recreation plays an important role, so does tourism and the heritage and spiritual value of the forest. The forest here has a high significance compared to what I have seen in other countries,” he said.