Carmel Forest fire
The charred remains of part of the Carmel Forest in wake of massive blaze. Photo by Alon Ron
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A government committee headed by the Environmental Protection Ministry yesterday submitted a plan to the cabinet for the rehabilitation of plant and animal life in the Carmel, in the wake of the recent fire. The committee determined that NIS 200 million, divided over a four-year period, will be required.

The funds will be used for thinning out vegetation between populated and wooded areas, expanding the water supply system and installing advanced surveillance and monitoring systems. It is noteworthy that the committee's recommendations were proposed by similar panels after previous fires in the vicinity, but never implemented.

The December 5 cabinet resolution that established this committee specified that its purpose was to formulate a plan to rehabilitate the flora and fauna damaged by the fire, including those in local campgrounds, the Hai Bar nature reserve and the Carmel Farm - a heritage site that belongs to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The plan was also supposed to include measures to prevent massive fires in the area in the future and to reduce the harm that may be caused by them.

"We will demand the immediate allocation of the budget," Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who chaired the committee, said yesterday. "It will provide the resources needed to rehabilitate the 'green lung' that serves millions of people."

The panel - which includes representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance and Science and Technology, as well as the parks authority, the Jewish National Fund and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel - further determined that natural renewal should be allowed to take place in the forest in the coming months and that no massive reforestation program should take place as of yet. Trees that pose a safety risk should, however, be pruned or removed as needed. In addition, there should be a thinning of pine seedlings (pines release a profusion of seeds after a fire ). Only about 1,000 dunams (10 dunams = 2.5 acres ) of the more than 20,000 dunams that were severely damaged should require intensive care in the form of plantings.

The committee recommended creating two or three water reservoirs and a system of pipes to transport the water, and the purchase of firetrucks for the parks authority.

It also proposed installing electro-optic surveillance systems with heat-sensing thermal cameras to monitor the entire region for signs of fire, and establishing a control-and-command center in the Carmel Park's offices, which would coordinate ongoing monitoring and firefighting activities.

Among the forestry management measures recommended by the panel to keep fires from spreading is the creation of buffer zones in areas adjacent to various local communities, along existing roads and on major mountain ridges.

The density of vegetation in these areas would be restricted to 30 trees per dunam, in order to prevent the rapid spread of any fire. The committee also suggested returning herds of cattle, sheep and goats to the Carmel, to help control vegetation growth, as well as addressing the problem of illegal garbage dumps in the area where wildfires sometimes start.