bird in Negev
A Houbara in the Negev. Photo by Asaf Meroz
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A new study on Israeli nature has found that almost 60 percent of mammals in the country are at risk of extinction, with over 80 percent of amphibians facing a similar threat. Of the 206 species of birds that nest in Israel, over 20 percent are also in danger of extinction.

The results are about to be published by the Israel Academy of Sciences, which carried out the survey, and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

The assessment was carried out in an effort to provide the environment ministry with a baseline for the evaluation of the state of nature in the country and as a foundation on which a national plan can be developed to protect nature.

Although the vast majority of Israel remains open space, a substantial portion of the country’s parks and nature reserves are fragmented in small vulnerable spaces, the study found.

“There has been an improvement in the approach and the management of protected areas,” said Yisrael Tauber, the director of forest management at the Jewish National Fund and one of the authors of the study. He cautions, however, that “the fragmentation and segmentation of areas is highly problematic and it is impossible to preserve a range of plants and animals this way.”

Israel has 250 nature reserves and 76 national parks. When combined with forests in the country, 30 percent of Israel’s total area constitutes protected open space. However, 90 percent of the area under protection is concentrated in the south, and half of that expanse is used for military exercises − exposing it to damage and disturbances in its natural state.

In the rest of the country, most open spaces are relegated to small spots of less than ten dunams each ‏(about 2.5 acres‏). This includes some of the nature reserves.

Only a fifth of the open space north of the Negev is predominantly in its natural state ‏(as opposed to agricultural land‏). On the positive side, the study found that the country’s forests and nature reserves enjoy a high degree of protection, and in the last two years, more than 20 new national parks and nature reserves have been officially proposed.

In recent years, environmental groups have demanded that limitations be placed on development and construction in areas that have not been designated as nature reserves or forests so they can at least be preserved as corridors for the movement of animals and expanses through which plant seeds can propagate.

Human activity is the primary cause of the disappearance of natural areas, most notably from construction activity north of the Negev. In the central coastal plain, winter rain pools and swampland that in the past covered 27.6 square kilometers have shrunk to a mere 2.4 kilometers.

Only 298 winter rain pools remain in the entire country, and other typically Israeli landscapes are also disappearing.