Green Cities How the Chicken Crosses the Road

As development increasingly threatens natural habitats, ecologic overpasses aim to ensure contiguity for wild animals, so they can continue roaming

Travelers on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway will one day be able to see an extraordinary bridge shimmering above the edge of the rise at the Sha'ar Hagai intersection: An ecologic overpass for wild animals, which will allow them to safely cross the road. The Israel National Roads Company (Ma'atz) intends to build the overpass, as part of a larger plan to broaden and upgrade the highway. There are plans to build two additional ecologic passageways in the Ramat Menashe area. Eitan Amir, director of the Roads Company's Highway 1 Road Improvement Project, says the slated overpass will be 50 meters wide and will be located west of the Shoresh intersection.

"It will be covered with soil and native plants, and only pedestrians and animals will be permitted to cross it. We chose the location based on studies conducted on our behalf by ecologist Dr. Ron Frumkin."

It is hard not to be impressed by the intentions and professionalism of the planners, engineers and ecologic consultants involved in the construction of ecologic bridges. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), which is spearheading the project, should also be commended for promoting measures that protect animals.

An examination of wild animals in Israel and elsewhere in the world reveals that many of them cannot survive without the assistance of a variety of creative, man-made measures. Humans collect sea turtle eggs on beaches and transfer them to a sheltered location until they hatch. Elsewhere, artificial winter pools were created for amphibians that rely on natural winter pools, which are slowly disappearing. When the natural habitat of the Yarkon bleak fish (Levanon hayarkon or Acanthobrama telavivensis) dried out six years ago, scientists were forced to transfer members of the species to reproductive aquariums to save them. Several feeding stations were established for raptors in Israel when sources of carrion, their staple diet, dwindled. The boundaries between man and wild animals have blurred to such an extent that scientific journals refer to these feeding stations as "vulture restaurants."

Aware of the gravity of the situation, INPA officials eight years ago proposed an extension of preservation activities beyond the designated borders of declared preservation sites, including setting up "ecologic corridors" throughout the nation. The plan does not define these corridors as formal preservation sites, but rather sets in place guarantees that would ensure the existance of contiguous open land, to permit passage of animals and distribution of plants.

Continued development poses a great threat to these natural corridors. The most notable example of a threatened corridor is the one that passes along the edge of the hilly region connecting the Samarian and Judean Hills. That central corridor provides a vital, contiguous connection between a Mediterranean region and one that is more arid and desert-like.

This natural corridor has already been narrowed by the large-scale expansion of Beit Shemesh. The establishment of the separation fence south of the city and the building of an adjoining community next to the fence compressed the corridor even further. The separation fence also divided open land in Modi'in and the planned expansion of the city will result in turning the corridor into a narrow path.

Ecologic bridges could help relieve the distress of wild animals in a few selected areas, but they will not change the general picture. In order to improve the general situation, some of the infrastructure, including segments of major highways, would have to pass through tunnels. But two proposals by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V'Din) and green activists to establish such tunnels in the Sharon Region and Ramat Menashe were recently rejected. The new section of the Cross-Israel Highway currently being paved at Ramat Menashe will include an ecologic passageway, but most of the open land will be blocked by a road animals cannot transverse.