Beware: Chopping Down a Tree Could Land You in Jail

Proposed amendments to the forest ordinance, which dates back to 1926, the British Mandate period, stipulate that trees cannot be cut down without a permit.

Cutting down or relocating mature trees could be punishable by fines and/or imprisonment, according to a series of amendments to the forest ordinance scheduled to be discussed today by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

The amendments, proposed by Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, also stipulate that trees cannot be cut down without a permit and establish under what circumstances compensation must be paid for chopping down trees. The forest ordinance dates back to 1926, the British Mandate period.

Tree at the entrance to Gvaram (Eliahu Hershkovitz)
Eliahu Hershkovitz

The amendments also address problems created by changes to the planning and construction law that pertain to protecting trees. The amendment would provide a single, uniform list of types of trees defined as "mature trees" - trees that have reached a height of at least two meters and a trunk 10 centimeters in diameter, measured at a height of 1.30 meters.

Mature trees would be protected from being chopped down, transplanted or killed without a permit.

Forest protection, which is the responsibility of the Agriculture Ministry, has been delegated in large measure to the Jewish National Fund, also known as Keren Kayemeth. To avoid unnecessary regulation, the proposed amendments would empower the agriculture minister to issue orders, based on recommendations from experts, to exclude certain species of trees from the list of protected tree types.

Some forestry experts oppose the proposed changes to the law. A senior JNF official, who said that the changes would create unnecessary bureaucracy, recommended that a list of protected trees be compiled quickly but said that discretion should be left to staff in the field to decide when trees can be cut down and whether they should be replaced.

Currently, licenses to remove mature trees are granted on condition that other trees are planted in their place, but the law does not provide many specifics. The proposed amendment would give the agriculture minister authority to draft detailed regulations on the matter.

Among the most important of the proposed amendments is the one that pertains to sanctions against those who violate the law. The amendment specifies that violators could be fined or imprisoned for up to six months. Repeated incidents of damage to unique trees at locations around the country has underscored the need for improved protection.

Tree researcher Yigal Sela documented an incident last week in the Mount Gilon area of the Galilee in which the largest carob tree in the country was damaged.