If you visit the Carmel Park these days you might just encounter a fallow deer with white spots and a gentle gaze, on one of the trails. It’s one of the only fallow deer released into the wild from a local breeding ground. When fire blazed through the Carmel in 2010, the deer, along with his family, was whisked away from the area. His rerelease into the wild is an encouraging sign of the restoration of the forest nearly five years after the largest fire in Israeli history swept through the area, destroying much of the natural habitat.
December will mark the end of the five-year period the government set to restore the area according to a plan hatched by the Parks and Nature Authority and implemented by the Forest Department under Environmental Protection Ministry supervision. Here’s a look at the progress:
Forests and woodlands. Parks and Nature Authority officials left the forests and woodlands alone for some time in order to allow natural growth to resume. Only work necessitated by safety concerns was carried out, such as removing burnt trees from hiking paths. It’s possible to see the renewed growth in the woodlands, particularly next to the burnt stumps that weren’t removed.
Preventing rejuvenation of pine forests. The plan called for uprooting many pine trees since this particularly species of pine, which is not native to the area, accelerated the pace at which the fire spread. “Work will soon begin to uproot these pines from the areas that were burned, as well as in areas that were affected by previous fires,” said Natan Elbaz, head of the Forest Department at the Parks and Nature Authority. Dead trees. Many hills and streams in the area are still dotted with dead, burned and dry trees – a silent reminder of what happened five years ago. Some of the dead trees will be left in place since removing them could damage the soil. “We’ll leave some of the trees so that their organic materials can enrich the soil,” said Dr. Amit Dolev, a Parks and Nature Authority ecologist. Some of the evacuated trees are given, for free, to local residents who use them for kindling.
Buffer zones. The peaceful pine forest near Haifa University has recently undergone a diligent process of pruning and felling. A few pines were cut down; others were thinned leaving only the treetops. Thinning pine trees is one way to create buffer zones in which there is slightly less growth while still preserving the look of the forest. “The goal is to create areas where flames will remain low, and spread more slowly,” explained Elbaz.
Animal life. Although the fire was especially large, wild animals didn’t abandon the Carmel, according to studies and cameras placed in the area. The Carmel is home to one of Israel’s highest concentrations of hyenas, and the eagle population in the area has increased since the fire. The fallow deer that were returned to the area should also help in thinning out plant life.
Restoration funding. The budget allocated by the government will soon run out, even though many goals have only been partially met. Preventative measures such as thinning the forest must be done regularly, and require regular budgeting. “If we don’t receive funds for measures such as thinning growth and buffer zones in areas near communities that are outside of the national park, there will still be danger of fire,” warned Parks and Nature Authority director Shaul Goldstein.
In response, the Environmental Protection Ministry stated that Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai recently approached Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the fire department, to ask for assistance in securing additional funds for the Parks and Nature Authority, as well as other local authorities, to create buffer zones in the Carmel and other forest areas.