Carmel restoration held back by funding, as pine seedlings spread
Danger remains that charred trees might fall and environmentalists are worried that a large number of pine trees could take root in the area, creating a crowded forest that faces the danger of another blaze in the future.
Following the initial shock of the forest fire on Mount Carmel last year, environmental preservation groups mobilized quickly to create a framework to deal with damage caused by the blaze. Yet today these groups find themselves paralyzed because the government has not allocated the reforestation funds it promised.
Meantime, there remains the danger that charred trees, which should have been cleared away some time ago, might fall - and environmentalists are worried that a large number of pine trees could take root in the area, creating a crowded forest that faces the danger of another blaze in the future.
Half a year ago, the government gave the go-ahead to recommendations furnished by a professional committee established by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan for the restoration of the Carmel Forest. A decision was reached to allocate NIS 55 million to repair the forest. But a bureaucratic dispute between the Finance Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry has blocked this allocation.
The reforestation framework worked out by the professional committee is based on the assumption that no intervention is needed in most of the Carmel Forest area, since plant and tree life will regenerate on their own. Yet the committee pointed to the need to remove young pine trees, which multiply as a result of the dispersion of pine seeds during the blaze. In parallel, burned trees should be removed in order to eliminate safety threats and damage to the soil. As a preliminary safety precaution, it was decided to create buffer zones - areas devoid of plants and trees - so that animals can cross through the forest.
"We are doing our best today, with a limited budget, to create crossing areas in the forest and remove burned-out trees. We are helped by volunteers, but it is clear that we need much more resources," stated Modi Oron, acting director general of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. "If budget allocations don't come soon, our ability to prevent another big blaze will be limited."
The scope of problems faced on the Carmel is reflected in a comprehensive survey undertaken by officials from the INPA. The survey shows that in most parts of the forest damaged by the fire there is renewal of different types of plants - this rejuvenation can be identified on between 60 percent and 80 percent of the damaged areas.
Still, there is a worsening problem of charred pine trees falling to the ground. "These trees are not only a safety issue," emphasizes Dr. Yishayahu Bar-Or, Deputy Director General of the Environmental Protection Ministry. "Their collapse leads to erosion on the ground, which invites parasites harmful to trees."
The survey indicates that the main problem on the Carmel in years to come is likely to be the proliferation of pine tree seedlings - in some areas, 6,000 pine trees per dunam have been found. "In some places, an amount of more than 20,000 seedlings has been found," the survey notes. "They will create a crowded, single-species forest unless they are thinned out in coming years."
The Finance Ministry relays that a budget for reviving the Carmel Forest is to be taken from a new fund for open spaces, to be established when a new lands authority is created within the Housing and Construction Ministry. Yet this fund has yet to be established, and Erdan opposes the future use of its assets for the purpose of repairing damage caused by fires. He says the fund's resources are to be designated for other purposes, particularly to finance the cancellation of construction plans in natural, green areas.