While most Israelis take pride in having made the desert bloom, some of the imported “blooms” have been contested over the years as threats to the ecosystem. In a land where Biblical passages echo everywhere, it’s sometimes disconcerting to realize just how dramatically the face of the landscape has been changed in recent years, and how many sources of that change have their roots–so to speak–in foreign soil.
A particular source of controversy is the pine tree forests, which are a 20th century invention in these parts. Now some researchers are asking: has the pine tree gotten a bad rap? And more interestingly, can dramatic changes to the ecosystem, performed without knowledge or understanding of ecology–still be okay?
That’s what Dr. Yagil Osem of the Volcani Institute is suggesting. According to Osem, the derogatory term “pine deserts” that used to be applicable to the pine forests–by virtue of the fact that there was no undergrowth–is now no longer relevant.
He told Haaretz, “The claim of ‘pine deserts’ was correct for a certain period,” he says. “Now, 50 or 60 years after that massive tree planting [enterprise], we see the picture has changed…Now the next generation of forest is beginning,” he says. “It is local and diversified. The first generation is about to end its life and the next generation is beginning, through natural regeneration, trees that survived and underwent selection. The forest is adapting itself to its surroundings.”
As someone who has never much cared for forests in Israel just because they seemed so new and regimented, I’m intrigued by the idea that this may no longer be the case. But is Dr. Osem right, or are we looking at big ecological problems to come? Let’s have the experts weigh in on this one.