JNF nursery director Heroy Amarah - Yaron Kaminsky
JNF nursery director Heroy Amarah with one of the saplings. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Almost 100 years after most of the oak trees in the Beit Keshet forest in the Lower Galilee were cut down, Israeli volunteers will begin replanting the lost oaks in hope of restoring a forest that gripped the imagination of English clergyman Henry Baker Tristram.

Tristram, a Bible scholar, traveler and ornithologist, passionately described the forest in his 1865 book "The Land of Israel, a Journal of Travels with Reference to Its Physical History."

Volunteers will plant oak acorns in a 20-dunam area (about five acres ) in the forest that was once dominated by oak trees, but suffered the same fate as other oak forests and was cut down for construction, heating and steam engines, as well as the Ottoman effort in World War I.

In the 1950s inhabitants of the nearby kibbutz unsuccessfully tried to plant oaks, and most of the subsequent planting was of pine trees.

Shelly Ben Yishai, the Nazareth district forester for the JNF, recently decided to try again to restore past splendor after noticing that one pine forest was dwindling. "The pines are slowly decaying and we intend to plant a sub-forest that will become the main forest in about 20 years," he told Haaretz.

In preparation, thousands of acorns of two local oak species were collected. According to our policy," says Heroy Amarah, director of the JNF nursery at the nearby Golani junction, "we insist on collecting acorns from the habitat to which they will return. That's why we collected the acorns from the Beit Keshet Forest."

Ben Yishai predicts that only a third of the acorns will take root, and the rest will be eaten by field mice, wild boars, cows or rot. Those that take will grow two meter-long roots within a year. "Even if cows eat the leaves," he says, "the roots will keep growing and the seedlings will grow rapidly the moment we close the area to grazing."

Ben Yishai adds that the planting will be relatively dense, with only a distance of two meters separating each pit, which will hold two or three acorns. If everything works according to plan, within 30 years the thousands of Israelis who visit the Beit Keshet Forest every weekend will again witness a forest as impressive as the one described by Tristram.