In the Name of the Green Toad

The various plans meant for the coming years in the Dan region will eradicate most remaining open land, and with it the profusion of creatures and plants.

Owls nest in trees and the rabbit hops in the field, as it is tracked by jackals and foxes, ready to pounce. Surrounding them are fields of daffodils, irises and extremely rare plants that cannot be found anywhere else in Israel. Between the fields are several pools containing amphibians that are also in danger of extinction, with fascinating names like the Syrian spadefoot toad and the banded newt; and, of course, we must not forget the green toad, which is also experiencing considerable hardship with the elimination of the winter pools it depends on.

It is difficult to believe that such an abundance of beauty and life can still exist within and on the margins of the large cities in Gush Dan, but it does - though apparently not for long. The various development plans that are expected to be implemented in the coming years will eradicate most of the open land that remains in the Dan region, and with it the profusion of creatures and plants.

Nature has the ability to exist even in an urban environment, if humans allow it the little space that still remains for it. In the Dan region, there are construction plans that actually are desirable from an environmental perspective, as they offer an alternative to the spread of construction to open lands outside of the metropolitan Tel Aviv area. But even these plans need to be implemented in a way that gives more consideration to nature.

The best chance for the rabbit to continue to hop and for the daffodils to continue to bloom is in the areas earmarked for municipal or metropolitan parks. The Tel Aviv Planning Board has made an important effort to promote these types of parks, but it seems that it did not give sufficient consideration to protecting the areas that serve as suitable habitats for wild animals and plants. Recently, the planning authorities announced their intention to draft a master plan to preserve urban nature sites. Nonetheless, plans that do not take such sites into account are still moving ahead.

One of these is the recreation strip slated to stretch from Ramat Hasharon to Tel Aviv, from the Morasha Junction in the east to the Glilot Junction area in the west. This plan is scheduled to be discussed tomorrow at the regional planning board in Tel Aviv. The strip is envisioned as a sort of green lung to be used for leisure activity, and it also promises to preserve the values of nature and landscape. In reality, however, the plan is crammed with over 3,000 housing units, the majority of which are spread over sites containing most of the unique and rare values of nature in the region.

The person who has risen in defense of the long-time residents, the toads that still croak in the pools or the partridges that are being pursued in many places by hunters, is Amit Mendelson, a local resident who has waged a stubborn battle in recent years to rescue sites of urban nature. Mendelson and Dror Ezra of the Green Party were the ones who persuaded the regional board to prepare a master plan for sites of urban nature.

In an objection he submitted to the plan for the recreation strip, Mendelson demonstrates, in a precise analysis, the extent of harm it will wreak in territories in which wild animals and plants still currently manage to survive. His message is not that construction must be completely halted, but rather a call to reduce its scope or to plan it in a different way so that more building rights will be available in areas where there would be no serious injury to nature.

What is important in Mendelson's proposal is the argument that one should not accept the assumption that just because nearly all of the flora and fauna in the crowded urban areas has already been destroyed, then this makes it okay to also destroy what remains - and, at the same time, still claim this is being done in order to preserve a green lung.

A green lung in an urban region is not only grass or a boulevard of decorative trees. It must give a place of honor to turtles and birds, to daffodils and sweet peas. (It was discovered only recently that the one place where one particular species of sweet pea is growing is a small hill in the heart of the planned recreation strip.) The value of the urban park or the recreation strip will only increase if visiting them can be an enriching experience, used for educating children and teenagers to preserve nature, which is becoming less and less tangible for them as it continues to move further away.