KKL-JNF at the 50th Annual Conference on Science and the Environment

This year the 50th Annual Conference on Science and the Environment was held in Tel Aviv in July 2022 and a major session was dedicated to KKL-JNF and its environmental activity. The session dealt with the challenges involved in managing forests in Israel, in light of climate change: improving the protection of forests, their resilience, and maximizing forest ecosystem services, the benefits forest ecosystems provide to humans.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Gilad Ostrovsky, KKL-JNF's Chief Forester and head of the Forestry Division.

The session began with Shani Rohatyn-Blitz, coordinator of the KKL-JNF Forestry Division, who spoke about the specific challenges facing Israel’s forests in relation to climate change, and the steps the organization is taking to prepare the forests. These include strengthening the forests’ resilience to drought and wildfires, increasing their biodiversity, and improving water harvesting methods.

The second speaker was Mor Ashkenazi, who heads the Forest Wildfire Protection unit in KKL-JNF's Forestry Division, whose talk focused on the August 2020 wildfire in the Judean Mountains, and the rehabilitation process. In the short and intermediate term, this includes taking measures to ensure safety, prevent erosion and control invasive species, and in the long term, this includes preparing a forest management plan based on ecological restoration and protection from future fires.

The next speaker, Dr.Yagil Osem from the Agricultural Research Organization at the Volcani Center, spoke about managing tree density in coniferous forests as a tool for coping with increasing dryness resulting from climate change. In his research, which extended over 12 years, he studied forest thinning as a means of managing forest water economy and improving the functioning and survival of forests in sub-arid conditions. Results indicate that in thinned forests, individual trees have been found to function much better and their water efficiency increases. There mortality rate is also lower.

The next speaker, Dr. David Yalin, a soil scientist from the Hebrew University, spoke about the ongoing research for the past 22 years in the Yatir Forest, which investigates the effectiveness of forests in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it. According to the results of the study, the forest is a carbon sink that absorbs about 150 grams of carbon per square meter annually. The carbon is stored mainly in the soil, and the soil contains almost 2.5 times the amount of organic carbon found in the trees. The dry climate in the area allows the carbon to remain in the soil for longer than in more temperate areas (ca. 59 vs. 21 years respectively), because there is less decomposition of organic matter.

The next speaker, Ido Livne, from the Hebrew University, spoke about using remote sensing via mid-resolution satellites (10-30 m) and GIS to study the scope of fires in open spaces in Israel. The information gathered in the study provided information on the distribution of fires according to vegetation formations, as well as the percentage of a specific vegetation formation out of the total area covered by that formation in Israel.

Inbal Zamir Pallivathikal, an environmental planner and consultant, closed the session with a talk about using ecosystem services as a tool in planning, using the new central Israeli city of Harish, and the surrounding ecologically important oak and pine woodlands as an example.

The KKL-JNF projects tackling climate change, happening right now
KKL-JNF is very involved in mitigating and preventing climate change in Israel. In 2021, KKL-JNF created The Climate Center, which promotes two pertinent areas: adaptation (preparing for extreme climate events) and mitigation (reducing and absorption of greenhouse gas emissions).

Here are some the projects being led by the climate center, which you can be partner to!

Urban Forestry and Runoff Management Plan
his project provides support for municipal urban forestry initiatives. Urban forests have been recognized around the world as effective and essential tools to increase urban resilience and protect against the damaging effects of extreme climate events, while providing, climatic, environmental, social, health and economic benefits.

The 360 Climate Crisis Preparedness Program
The Climate Center's newest program "Climate 360 in the Regional Councils" aims at preparing regional governing councils for the coming climate crisis, by encouraging them to create strategic plans focusing on issues related to climate. Starting in December 2022, 12 regional councils will be chosen to participate in the program, receiving funding and practical support from KKL-JNF. Over each of the subsequent two years, 17 more regional councils will be added to the program, reaching a large majority of the country's rural population.

Spearheading research in Israel to tackle the climate crisis
KKL-JNF Chief Scientist Dr. Doron Markel and his team of researchers are leading 17 new research initiatives that directly address climate crisis issues. Most of the research projects are three-year studies carried out in cooperation with prominent research institutions in Israel, including the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

The Kinneret Innovation Center
The center, located at the Kinneret College, is an incubator for innovative ideas in the fields of food, water and agritech. It is a joint project of Kinneret Academic College, Zemach Mifalim, and KKL-JNF. The new center is expected to attract human capital and thus strengthen the country's northern region.

Promoting Forest Ecosystem Services through Research
Mitigating greenhouse gases is only one of the many contributions of KKL-JNF's forests. They also provide habitats for wildlife and ecosystem services for the country's residents and visitors. These include shade, forest picnic and leisure areas, scenic lookouts, historical and heritage sites, and miles of walking and cycling trails. They also prevent soil erosion and combat desertification. KKL-JNF has approved 16 new research initiatives in the field of forest ecosystem management. This will enable the KKL-JNF Forestry Division to continually update its ecosystem management policies in accordance with scientific research on the ground, ensuring the viability of KKL-JNF’s forests for generations to come.