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Forest fire fuels review of Israel's tree-planting traditions

A plane sprays fire-extinguishing material on Dec. 5 to combat the country's worst-ever forest blaze, which destroyed nearly 8,000 acres.
A plane sprays fire-extinguishing material on Dec. 5 to combat the country's worst-ever forest blaze, which destroyed nearly 8,000 acres. (Uriel Sinai)

And the cherished value of planting more trees is also coming into question. On the floor of the Carmel forest, millions of seeds released by pine cones during the fire have settled into the earth and ash, and some fresh grass and flowers have already appeared after a first burst of winter rains.

Perevolotsky, who serves on a government-appointed committee on rehabilitating the Carmel, says there is general agreement that the forest should be allowed to regenerate naturally, a process that will take decades.

"There's an absolute consensus that nothing needs to be done" now, he said, adding that the pine seeds would naturally produce an abundance of new seedlings. "In another few years we will have to thin out, not plant, and take measures to prevent the next fires."

Tauber, who is helping write Israel's first forestry guidelines, said that "after the fire we understood that the first thing to do is let nature take its course. You don't have to plant."

Next month, during the tree holiday of Tu Bishvat, there may be ceremonial plantings on the Carmel by Israeli leaders, but these will be symbolic, Tauber said.

Yagil Osem, a forest ecologist who is also serving on an expert committee, said that the focus now would be on sustainable management of the forest in way that would enable it to regenerate with a variety of trees and survive in Israel's dry climate - and under heavy public use. The burned areas will serve as a living lab.

"We're starting to put into practice forest management based on natural processes," Osem said. "Planting was always the symbol and will always be an element, but its part in the story is getting smaller."

Greenberg is a special correspondent.


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