Tel Aviv's Beit Romano - Moti Milrod - July 27 2011
The eucalyptus at Tel Aviv’s Beit Romano. Photo by Moti Milrod
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The eucalyptus tree in the middle of the Beit Ramon parking lot in south Tel Aviv isn't just impressive looking, it carries an impressive price tag as well: NIS 500,000. Officials from the Agriculture Ministry's forestry service and the Tel Aviv Municipality recently appraised the tree as part of a new policy placing hefty price tags on mature trees in urban areas that need to be cut down to make way for construction projects.

The eucalyptus stands on the route of the planned light rail system for the Tel Aviv area, and although the rail lines on that part of the route will be below ground, officials decided the tree has to go. In a reflection of the importance attached to the tree's future, two special meetings were held on the fate of the tree.

In recent years, forestry officials have been setting what they consider the replacement value for trees for which there is no alternative to chopping them down. The value is based on criteria developed in the United States which takes factors such as the age and condition of the tree and the prevalence or rarity of the tree into consideration. The valuation is usually the basis for compensation provided by developers, which can take the form of planting of new trees.

"Our top preference is that trees not be cut down and there are instances in which construction plans have been changed to avoid cutting them down," said Israel Galon, of the Agriculture Ministry's forestry service, who added that there are also circumstances in which trees have been transplanted to new locations.

The prospects, however, for successfully transplanting the Beit Romano tree are less than 50 percent, Galon said, adding: "So it was decided to set a replacement value of half the cost of transplantation, which is half a million shekels. This value will be reflected in the planting of new trees by light rail personnel in the immediate vicinity."

Trees in good condition, of a unique species and with a trunk that is half a meter in diameter can be valued at up to NIS 400,000, while trees over 50 years old with a wider trunk can even be worth more, Galon said.

Light rail staff will also soon be conducting a survey of other trees on the rail route that may have to be relocated or cut down.

Last year the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel appealed to Galon over the decision by a municipal forestry official in Tel Aviv to cut down an 80-year old cypress tree on a building site on Tyomkin Street in the city. The appeal was filed after two other trees in the vicinity were cut down.

Galon approved the removal of the third tree, but took the city to task for not seeking to have the construction plans changed to save the trees. Legislation is currently pending in the Knesset that would provide more explicit standards for cutting down trees and assigning their replacement value.