How did Israel become a research laboratory of the climate crisis?

The article, courtesy of the Walla website
Israel suffers from both the global climate crisis and an environmental crisis in which open areas continuously shrink and pollution increases. In order to deal with the phenomenon, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund has established long term research and ecological monitoring stations that enable the various researchers to create recommendations for restoring systems.
The climate crisis faced by Israel and the world brings with it extreme climate phenomena such as tropical storms, lengthy cold and heat waves, floods, heavy and lengthy heat waves and so forth. Luckily, the State of Israel is also considered groundbreaking on studies in the field of ecology and environmental sciences, and in fact constitutes a comfortable research space for an unusually large number of research stations in forests and the desert (in the Negev) relative to its size. One of the entities that engages in climate research is Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), which currently operates five long-term ecological research and monitoring stations. These research stations belong to the LTER Israel national network, the eLTER European network and ILTER international network.

(Photo: Shai Li Dor Haim) (Photo: Shai Li Dor Haim)

The KKL-JNF research stations constitute a platform for many cooperative ventures between research institutions and additional entities for extensive and important research activities with an emphasis on managing open spaces in light of the climate crisis and the environmental crisis. The research and long-term monitoring at the research stations allow us to understand the behavior of the ecological systems in the long term and under changing environmental conditions, and to create recommendations for restoring deteriorated systems and combatting desertification.
"Israel suffers from both the global climate crisis and an environmental crisis in which the open areas continuously shrink and pollution increases", says Dr. Shani Rohatyn-Blitz, the Research and Foreign Relations Coordinator in the Forestry Department of KKL-JNF, who coordinates the operations of the organization's research stations. According to her, "the convergence of these two crises in our area transforms Israel into a laboratory for the study of the climate crisis. This way, we can know how the world will look like in the future following the effects of global warming. In fact, following climate change and desertification processes, we expect the collapse of many ecosystems and thus for instance the Sayeret Shaked Park Station in the Western Negev documented the first collapse of the ecosystem in the world, which led to the death of bushes and to a change in the composition of flora, which included a drastic decline in the functioning of the system.
How does the activity of the research station facilitate a better and wiser management of the forests in Israel?
"The various studies and monitoring enable us to understand what is actually happening in the ecosystem as a result of the climate crisis and how any action we take impacts the system. KKL-JNF's first station was established in Sayeret Shaked Park in the 1990s and since then, 4 additional stations were established whose goal is to support the interface and the forestry work in long term monitoring. The stations are located in various climate regions, from desolate or semi desolate regions such as the Yatir Forest Station to Mediterranean climate regions such as the HaKdoshim Forest Station".
One of the first conclusions as stated, for this long-term monitoring, was reached at the Sayeret Shaked Park Station in the Western Negev, which was the first in the world to document a collapse of an ecosystem. "What is interesting in this case was the reappearance of surface runoff after the collapse of the system, which enabled us to learn what the function of the woody (non-leafy) flora was in preserving the runoff", explains Shani. This knowledge enables us, inter alia, to know how to preserve fertile ground (as part of the restoration process) in order to preserve the surface runoff and block their leakage out of the system".

(Photo: PR)(Photo: PR)

She further notes that " an additional subject that was researched in the stations is forest renewal, i.e. how to renew the older generation of trees in order to ensure that the forest remains in its optimal condition and can handle extreme scenarios, various hazards and so forth.
While Shani is responsible, as stated, for the research stations in the forests, the person who is responsible for managing KKL-JNF forests is Dr. Gilad Ostrovsky, the Chief Forester and Manager of the Forestry Department at KKL-JNF. The forest management activities in Israel are performed on the basis of the Forest Management Doctrine in Israel Document, which adopted the terms and insights from the studies of the recent decades regarding the management of sustainable forests", he attests. A large component in the management of forests is maintaining the forests resilience in light of the climate changes, first among them the decrease in precipitation, the longer heat waves, the shorter winter and rainy season etc.".
What are the actions that you are taking to deal with climate changes more effectively?
"KKL-JNF Performs various and diverse actions to preserve a sustainable forest, among them we may include a strong reliance on local species that have adapted to varying environmental conditions, such as heat and a changing amount of precipitation, as well as thinning out trees in coniferous forests (primarily pine trees) in order to improve the water economy adapted to the trees and thus the survivability of the coniferous trees for years, even under the toughest environmental conditions.
Additional actions are the development of a response capability for instances of outbreaks of forest pests such as invasive pests coming in from Lebanon which damage woodland and coniferous trees, development of the ability to deal with invasive plant species, as well as the creation of a biologically diverse and complex forest with various species of local trees alongside leafy trees, bushes and low trees".

But it turns out the implementation of this long-term plan for the management of forests in Israel has encountered difficulties in light of the absence of a National Forest Law, this unlike the existing situation in other countries in the world.
"In Israel a special situation exists, wherein KKL-JNF, which constitutes a national quasi-forestry service, is a private entity that in fact lacks formal powers to supervise the prevention of littering in forests, preventing harm to the forest on the part of motor vehicles, preventing building violations that invade the forests and so forth", Gilad explains. "Hence the importance of the Forest Law, which would grant KKL-JNF the powers to reduce the damage to the forest and enable it to formally implement the policy advanced by KKL-JNF".
Where do things stand today?
"There is an advanced draft of the forest law and I hope that the move made in coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture will be advanced soon. We view the Forest Law as a strategic move that would increase the ability to protect and manage the forests in the country".
Not everything in KKL-JNF concerns forests only, and as part of the seminar that took place recently under the title "Researching Tomorrow Today", Dr. Doron Markel, the Chief Scientist of KKL-JNF, laid out the organization's doctrine pertaining to a multi-systemic handling of the climate crisis. "The strategy for fighting the climate crisis on the part of KKL-JNF is broad and diverse and includes actions such as stopping the deforestation, planting forests and preserving damp habitats, encouraging a move to renewable energies, sustainable agriculture, efficient usage of water, increased energy efficiency, green construction and recycling, all for the purpose of reducing emissions and carbon sequestration (Mitigation)", he says.

(Photo: PR)(Photo: PR)

"Alongside this, we are also operating on the level of preparing for the expected climate changes (Adaptation) for instance fires and droughts, flooding events in cities and streams, heat waves in cities and preserving biodiversity in threatened habitats".
You mentioned renewable energies. Are there private entrepreneurs who are already engaging in this successfully, and if so, why is KKL-JNF seeking to enter this field?
"When we talk in Israel about renewable energies and reduction targets of energy consumption, we primarily refer to solar energy. On the one hand, this is clean and nonpolluting energy, something excellent in and of itself, but on the other hand the solar fields require large areas and require use of storage systems that do pollute (made of lithium). In fact, we predict that someday soon the state authorities will ask KKL-JNF to clear out forests for the purpose of building solar fields. In order to prevent this, we are promoting pilots in the North and South that are based upon energetic dual usage i.e. the fields are used for both agriculture and production of solar power as well as pilots for non-lithium storage systems".
As stated, KKL-JNF is also working to preserve biodiversity in threatened habitats and within this framework it operates an Acclimatization Center for wounded animals in the Hula Lake as well as conservation of endangered species in the lake. "Wild animals that arrive at the Acclimatization Center are usually injured as a result of a collision with a vehicle or a power line and we rehabilitate them and return them to nature", tells Doron. "As part of the seminar, I also presented a species we thought had gone extinct, a species of amphibian called the Hula Painted Frog, and we managed to identify and cultivate this species as part of the endangered species conservation activities".
Does KKL-JNF also engage in education of the future generation of scientists in Israel?
"Certainly. We are partners in the granting of prizes for groundbreaking climate studies on an international level, conduct research competitions such as the Extreme Climate Preparation Technologies Competition and promote the establishment of centers of innovation in academia, including Ben Gurion University, Sapir College, Kineret College and Tel-Hai College. This is not merely a slogan for us, KKL-JNF is currently at the forefront of studies into the climate crisis in Israel and I believe that our plans and activities will succeed in reducing the damage of the climate crisis in our beautiful country".
Published on May 15, 2024