Israeli Forests Are Pining Away

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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.

Source: Haaretz

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One thought on “Israeli Forests Are Pining Away”

  1. Maskil says:

    While I can’t claim to be an expert, I do have a couple of comments and questions:

    We are left with the impression that the pine monoculture did no great harm to the JNF’s afforestation efforts, although a generation (in pine forest terms) may have been lost due to the fixation on pines. Is this not in itself a problem, i.e. would these areas not be a great deal closer to their managed climax vegetation had a more diversified planting regimen been followed?

    Is the emergence of this next generation of forest cover therefore a matter of planning or luck? Did nature correct the JNF’s mistakes (basically pull their chestnuts out of the fire), or did this happen in terms of a far-sighted plan?

    According to the JNF (US) website, “The Bible tells us that God originally filled the land with olive, pine, cypress, tamarisk, acacia, and carob trees. These are the species that we plant today to renew and nurture the land.” Is this an admission that a nurse crop was not really a necessary phase in the rehabilitation of these areas, or that the pine nurse crop may not have been the best choice?

    Perhaps what we now need are clear statements from the KKL/JNF Israel’s forestry division regarding the following:

    · Are nurse crops still needed, or can future plantings more closely reflect the desired climax species mix?

    · If nurse crops are still required, what will the makeup be, or will the pine monoculture remain?

    · Is there a plan to help migrate existing forests to a more mixed/indigenous composition, or will nature be left to take its course?

    I have taken the liberty of cross-posting to my blog here:

    Altneuland: The JNF’s pine forests: Pine deserts or nurse crops?
    http://blog.altneuland.info/2008/02/jnfs-pine-forests-pine-deserts-or-nurse.html

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