Drought, Not Rain, Puts Carmel in Danger, Study Finds

Scientists say floods never materialized, but lack of rain could hinder regrowth of scorched forest

First there was too much rain. Now there's not enough.

Carmel Forest fire
Alon Ron

Experts falsely predicted there would be extensive floods and mudslides in the fire-ravaged Carmel following heavy rains last week. Now fresh warnings are being issued that the natural rehabilitation of the forest could be complicated by continuing drought conditions.

Before the recent thunderstorms, which dropped 1.4 meters of rain on the Carmel in a span of two days, scientists expressed concern that the massive forest fire which destroyed tens of thousands of dunams would leave behind a thick layer of ash that would prevent the ground from adequately absorbing rainwater, thus raising the risk of flooding.

Flood experts in the Agriculture Ministry conducted tests which showed that no floods occurred as a result of the rain. The researchers believe that the intense heat generated by the fire destroyed organic compounds in plants with hydrophobic (or water repellent ) tendencies, thus creating the ground conditions which are conducive to water absorption.

Nonetheless, experts are cautioning hikers to refrain from trekking on unmarked paths in the affected areas of the Carmel forest so as to prevent mudslides and to allow plants to sprout anew.

While the threat of floods seems to have subsided, There are concerns the continuing drought will complicate efforts to rehabilitate the burned-out forest. This fear has been heightened by a recent study by researchers from Ben-Gurion University.

According to the study, which was conducted in the Galilee but could have applications for the Carmel, old growth trees harmed in the fire can regenerate, but lengthy droughts have killed off many of them. The study examined oak trees, five percent of which ended up dying. Twenty percent of the trees were consumed by fire, but they were regenerated after new trunks were grown.

"If until now we expected [a forest] recovery within a certain time frame with a low mortality rate, then perhaps the drought will change this pace and cause a higher mortality rate," said Dr. Orna Reisman-Berman, one of the study's authors. "Even if we see an immediate recovery just a few years after the fire, from our study we see that the trees which were harmed during the fire are more sensitive to drought and are liable to die after they appear to have recovered."