A landscaped river running through Kibbutz Nir David Oct. 31, 2010 (Moti Kaplan)
A landscaped river running through Kibbutz Nir David in the Beit She'an Valley. Photo by Moti Kaplan
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Israel's northern valleys make up a familiar and beloved symbol of the country's landscape: a colorful mosaic of farm fields and fish ponds. But from the point of view of deer or beetles, its network of roads and fences create a headache that make getting from point A to B an impossibility.

In order to restore freedom of movement to wildlife, and locate ecological pathways, which connect areas of nature that have been cut off from one another, a study has recently been conducted by the chief scientist's division of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in cooperation with environmental planner Moti Kaplan.

The study focused on the area where the Jezreel Valley meets with the Beit She'an Valley, between the Gilboa mountains to the south and Ramat Zvi to the north, near Ein Harod and Beit Alfa.

Ecological pathways are strips of open land that enable animal crossings and the spread of wild plants. Sometimes these strips are quite narrow; an ecologist who participated in the study, Jean Marc Dufour-Dror, describes them as "a protected highway for animal movement."

"The aim is to create possibilities for movement, not only for large animals like gazelles and boars, which can manage on their own in farm fields and move quickly," says Dotan Rotem, in charge of open areas for the authority. "We want beetles and small reptiles and rodents to enjoy freedom of movement too. A driver is not blocked by barriers in the middle of the road, and wild animals too must have the possibility of going wherever they want."

Kaplan's team, along with ecologist Orit Stokalsky, mapped natural areas and barriers between Mount Gilboa and Ramat Zvi. "Natural spaces are spread over the agricultural valley like a net that extends the length of fields, streams and roads, and include the sides of cultivated fields, stone walls, boulders and forests," according to the study.

The area also includes an abundance of fences and infrastructure, such as a local highway slated for widening. And in the near future, work is to begin to revive the train route that once ran through the valley on the way to Beit She'an.

The study recommends that the first stage focus on streamlets connecting natural mountain ridges on both sides of the valley, turning them into a network of pathways. It also suggests removing unnecessary fences and developing channels to allow the free flow of rain water. Plants may also be added to roadsides, in order to create havens for wildlife.

Keep the edges wild

"In cooperation with farmers, and in exchange for financial incentives, the edges of their fields must be left uncultivated and unsprayed," Rotem says.

"In addition, it is possible to design more moderate inclines under the railway tracks, so that small animals will be able climb over them. Another idea is to plan an overpass over the road, a bridge that large animals like deer can also cross."

This kind of bridge, Rotem says, is already in the planning stages for the Yokneam-Zichron Yaakov road, which has become a barrier in the middle of the ecological pathway.