Ecological Corridors Are Disappearing

The separation fence creates a new security and political reality, and it is high time that the planning authorities and government offices internalize the fact that it also creates a new environmental reality.

Every house needs a corridor since it is very difficult to exist in separate rooms that are not connected. This is true of humans and no less so of the creatures that live in nature. Experts refer to the area where animals move about and disperse plant seeds between various habitats as an "ecological corridor." Simply stated, this is nature's artery.

The nature reserves, forests and national parks in Israel cover 27 percent of the country's area. However, these areas were planned without any territorial contiguity and they have differing biological and geographic characteristics. It is only in the last decade that planners and experts at the Nature and Parks Authority have started to relate to corridors and to mark them on maps.

The basic principle is that the corridors should not create a barrier nor should they be dispersed in every direction. This kind of planning is important so that one will have a feeling of nature in a country that is overloaded with infrastructure, private homes and industrial areas.

On the face of it, planning institutes and government offices have adopted this new approach and started to speak about ecological corridors as if they were recognized streets. Only last week, the Interior Ministry's committee that deals with the maintenance of agricultural lands and open spaces approved the establishment of a community south of Beit Shemesh, called Eden Hills. For the sake of protecting the ecological corridors, it rejected the establishment of an industrial zone that was supposed to be set up alongside it.

However, the very establishment of the community will interfere with the ecological corridor, according to the Nature and Parks Authority, which failed to convince most members of the committee. In the authority's opinion, the establishment of Eden Hills will break up the contiguity of the open spaces and severely harm nature. Referring to a proposal to limit construction at the community in order to lessen the environmental damage, the authority avers that this is like giving aspirin to a terminally ill patient.

The planning authorities also ignored the ecological corridors linking the Gilboa mountain to other areas and the Carmel range to Lower Galilee and approved plans for construction in the heart of the open spaces. Ecological corridors are already disappearing at a rapid rate along the southern coast. According to research carried out by Yafit Cohen of the Volcani Institute at Beit Dagan and Irit Amit-Cohen of Bar-Ilan University, in the 1970s there were nine areas that were suitable to serve as green corridors between the Dan region and Ashkelon. Following decades of speedy development, in the year 2000, there was only one corridor left, that along the Soreq riverbed.

This lack of awareness of vital arteries took on an even more serious significance recently with the building of the separation fence. This fence creates a tremendous barrier smack in the heart of the central corridor linking the Mediterranean area of the Judean hills with the more southern area that reaches the Negev. It takes a huge chunk out of this corridor and turns it into something much narrower. Villages, roads and quarries will be squashed into what is left of this southern region. Now they also want to add Eden Hills, which describes itself as an ecological community since it will recycle water, preserve energy and limit the entry of motor vehicles.

But experts say that Eden Hills will itself constitute an "ecological bottleneck" and make it even less possible for plants and living creatures to pass through the area. In the opinion of Prof. Avi Prevoluzki, the authority's former chief scientist, it will be completely impossible to have an ecological corridor that fulfills its function in the area in which the new community, plus a road and the separation fence, will be set up.

The separation fence creates a new security and political reality, and it is high time that the planning authorities and government offices internalize the fact that it also creates a new environmental reality. The only possibility of actually maintaining ecological systems in this reality is by limiting the extent of construction in the heart of the open space, such as in the case of expanding Jerusalem westward in the direction of the forest, and to reject construction plans that block ecological corridors, as in the case of Eden Hills. This is the way to preserve the fabric of life, which also has the right to exist between all the fences, roads and houses.