Israeli Mayors Demand: Give Wildlife Safe Right of Way

Mayors of Zichron Ya’akov, Binyamina revising plans for new industrial zones to give deer safe passage.

A sign posted near the entrance to the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park near Zichron Ya’akov warns drivers that they’re approaching a crossing for roe deer. Inside the park, the deer are protected - but once they leave, they face the threat of cars. Just last week one that ventured out was hit by a vehicle.

While new construction in the area could increase the danger faced by the roe deer and other fauna, the mayors of Zichron Ya’akov and Binyamina recently agreed, in an unprecedented step, to make a change in the plans to include a safe crossing point for wildlife.

The Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park, which was established in memory of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, one of Israel's biggest financial supporters in its early years, spreads out over roughly 5,000 dunams. While some of the area consists of cultivated gardens, most of it is run like a nature reserve isolated from the adjacent environment. Except for its eastern side, it is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and roads.

Park workers protect many species of local fauna, and they recently realized that development plans in the surrounding neighborhoods would impact their efforts.

“When we took a close look at the construction plan for the area, we saw that an industrial zone was planned for the eastern side of the park,” said Naomi Apel, the project manager at Ramat Hanadiv. “We looked into how the construction would affect the animals’ free movement.”

On the eastern side of the park is a fence that keeps cattle out of the area, but does not impede the crossing of other animals. Park employees mounted 16 cameras at various places along the fence to find the areas of highest animal traffic from Ramat Hanadiv into the nearby Alona Park. One roe deer was filmed going under the fence and continuing on its way. Mountain gazelles, wild boar and other fauna have been filmed as well.

Alterra, an environmental research institute based in The Netherlands, was asked to undertake a study on the issue and, among other things, estimate where crossing points for fauna could be built in the park.

“This is a tool that could help decision-makers understand the importance of protecting animals, some of which they’re not at all familiar with,” said Avi Perevolotsky, an ecologist who has spent more than 20 years studying Ramat Hanadiv.

The study concluded, among other things, that if the construction plan was left unchanged, some species of fauna in the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park would not be able to survive. “Biological diversity is highly dependent on the quality, quantity, and spatial cohesion of natural areas. Fragmentation of natural habitats severely affects the abundance of species,” reads the abstract of the report, which is entitled “Lifelines for Ramat Hanadiv.”

Alterra’s researchers found a crossing point that had been created in the past, but it wasn’t enough. They recommended expanding it and turning it into an ecological corridor by making it wide enough to allow animals to cross safely. They also recommended creating an animal crossing over the highway that cuts through the ecological corridor — which the Dutch researchers call a “lifeline.”

The creation of the corridor, which will be roughly 850 meters long and 150 meters wide, requires a change in the construction plan for Zichron Ya’akov and Binyamina and a reduction in the size of the industrial areas. The route of the road that will pass through the area also needs to be changed. Ramat Hanadiv’s professional team met with Eli Abutbul, the mayor of Zichron Ya’akov, and Ori Disatnik, the mayor of Binyamina, to tell them how the construction plan would affect the park’s fauna.

Although the mayors had already begun marketing the land in the two future industrial zones, they agreed to stop the process and look into reducing the amount of construction to create the corridor.

It wasn’t just talk, either: last week, they met with officials of the Israel Land Administration, which owns the land, telling them that they wanted to change the construction plan. Officials of the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park were willing to fund the plan’s revision, but the industrial zones will still be built on most of the land intended for them and will change the nearby landscape.

“The industrial zone is like oxygen for us because of the area’s economic situation,” says Disatnik. “But once we heard what the animals needed, we stopped marketing the land where the corridor will be. We’ll start marketing other parts of the area, and meanwhile we’ll look into how to change the plan so the corridor can be created.”

Zichron Ya’akov’s mayor, Eli Abutbul, agrees. “We’ll sacrifice what we must, including the construction plan, to protect these amazing animals and make sure there’s a crossing point between the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park and Alona Park. Preserving nature for posterity is part of Zichron Ya’akov’s heritage.”

Park Ramat Hanadiv