Increased fencing in the Judean Hills is responsible for the continued shrinkage of wildlife habitat in the area, according to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. A recently-completred mapping of the hilly region to the west of Jerusalem found that the total length of fences around agricultural lands in the region exceeds 70 kilometers - and is expected to grow in the coming years.
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The SPNI is calling for steps to be taken to ensure that the needs of nature are taken into account when fences are planned.
The society’s Open Landscape Institute recently mapped existing and planned fences in the Judean Hills, from the area of Beit Shemesh to Sha'ar Hagai in the west to Jerusalem and Tzur Hadassah in the east. The mapping was based on information gathered by Avraham Shaked, the society’s regional coordinator for environmental matters in the Judean Hills.
“The combined length of the agricultural fences is about 72 kilometers,” says Shaked. “Potential additional fencing around land that has yet to be planted is another 11.5 kilometers.”
One of the factors behind increased fencing off of the land in the area in recent years has been the planting of vineyards. The farmers fence-in the vineyards to prevent damage caused by wild animals, including gazelles, which graze on the young grape leaves, and foxes and jackals which often damage irrigation pipes.
The northern boundary of the Judean Hills has been blocked off to wildlife by the separation fence, while the southern boundary of the hills has been blocked to wildlife by construction work on the separation fence next to the village of al-Walaja. Fences have also been placed around communities and infrastructure installations in recent years.
Shaked says that the region between Beit Nakufa and Emek Ha'arazim to the west of Jerusalem has been almost entirely cut off to wildlife by fences around communities and infrastructure along with the separation fence. In the area of Mevo Beitar and Tzur Hadassah, the ecological corridor going from north to south will also be cut off when the separation fence is built there and the community of Tzur Hadassah expands. Shaked says the planned construction of a fenced highway in the area will only worsen the situation.
“We already see the damage done to the gazelle population in the region of Emek Ha'arazim,” says Amir Balaban, urban nature coordinator at SPNI. “The fencing is preventing them from reaching parts of their habitat.” The gazelles are harmed not only by the closing off of part of their natural territory, but also by the entanglements they get into when trying to cross the fences.
According to Yariv Malichi, an Israel Nature and Parks Authority ecologist for the Central District, the fencing harms not just the gazelles but dozens of species, including badgers, porcupines and mongooses
“Camera monitoring has indicated wildlife passages between fences, but they are becoming traps,” says Malichi. “Predators like jackals and packs of dogs are identifying the corridors and trying to prey on animals like gazelles that have limited ability to maneuver in these areas.”
Two years ago, SPNI succeeded in getting some of the fences around vineyards owned by the Barkan Winery taken down. “We try to deal with the fencing problem through constant contact with the farmers and planning that will lead to a reduction in the size of the fence,” says Malichi.
The Nature and Parks Authority is trying to promote several alternatives to fencing. One is to plant vines in plastic sleeves, to protect them while they are maturing. Another idea that was tested was using a stinging material to repel mammals, but it failed. Malichi mentions the possibility of removing part of the fences when the vines are not in blossom. He says that the authority is in talks with the Agriculture Ministry to provide funding for dismantling fences.
According to Shaked, one of the last nature corridors open to gazelles to the west of Jerusalem is adjacent to the community of Har Adar, at a spot where the national water carrier Mekorot is planning to build a new water installation. The area will be fenced off during its construction. “We spoke with Mekorot employees about carrying out the work without completely fencing off the area and they are displaying willingness to cooperate so we can preserve freedom of movement in the area,” Shaked said.