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Beit Oved members recently applied for a permit to expand their moshav, located west of Nes Tziona. However, planning officials demanded that the expansion plan include the preservation of an ecological corridor connecting a national park and an open area intended for recreation.

The Central District's planning and construction committee is expected to decide soon whether the corridor - a thin strip of vegetation used by wildlife and allowing movement of biotic elements between the two areas - as proposed by the moshav - is wide enough or should be widened at the insistence of environmental organizations.

The preservation of ecological corridors is gradually becoming a central factor in nature preservation in Israel and could have repercussions on numerous construction projects. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) has decided that protecting nature reserves, forests and national parks is not enough and that areas linking protected and open areas must be ensured.

These corridors are mainly intended to guarantee movement and distribution of flora and fauna. Corridors do not have a nature reserve status but require restricting construction in their vicinity.

It took some time for planning officials to absorb the new idea, but now it is gaining a foothold, says Menachem Zalutski, the Environment Ministry's Open Spaces director.

"Plans to expand Modi'in were rejected by the national planning and construction council last year, among other reasons being that the council recognized the importance of the ecological corridor," he says.

"The ministry and INPA intend to examine the preservation of an ecological corridor between the Gilboa mountains and the adjacent Ramot Issachar region and make a plan showing, in detail, what may and may not be done in such an area."

National importance

Another example is the Harei Eden community planned in the Ela Valley, in an area marked on the maps as an ecological corridor of national importance. This area has already been made smaller because of the separation fence. The Jerusalem District planning and construction committee decided some two years ago that the new community's construction area would be reduced so that hundreds of meters-wide strips would be left on either side of it to preserve the corridor.

In Beit Oved the corridor is vital to preserve the flora and fauna of Nes Tziona's gravel hills, which environmental organizations have long campaigned to preserve. The Israel Nature Protection Society (INPS) and Environment Ministry say the area proposed by the moshav is too narrow and a large part of it is covered by a road and is too close to houses. The planning and construction committee has not accepted their argument and they intend to fight its decision in the coming debates on the plan.

A few months ago authorities approved a master plan for the Jerusalem area, marking the area west of the capital as an ecological corridor. The plan stipulates that any scheme to expand the construction in the area intended for the corridor requires an examination to evaluate the effect on its width and function.

"The main area to be protected now lies east of the coastal plain, which has been categorized as an ecological corridor of national importance," says INPS's Alon Rothschild. "It's being reduced by housing construction, quarries and the separation fence."