Abut a year ago, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and farmers in the Golan Heights got into a dispute about the location of a planned fruit orchard. The Nature Authority said that fencing the orchard would block the movement of gazelles through the area. The farmers thought that the fence wouldn’t bother the animals, which they said have other ways of getting across. The nature authority placed cameras in the area to track the animals, and after a snowstorm, they discovered that the gazelles avoided the area of the storm by means of a path that crossed the planned area of the orchard. The farmers were persuaded and decided to plant the orchard elsewhere.
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This story illustrates the hardships wild animals face outside protected areas like nature reserves and forests. To deal with the problem, ecological corridors are planned, abroad and in recent years in Israel too. An ecological corridor is a contiguous open area connecting two natural protected areas, which animals can cross and plants can be disseminated. The width of the corridor might be a few dozen meters or dozens of kilometers – but it is a lifeline for flora and fauna.
The Nature and Parks Authority first presented the concept a decade ago, when it was realized that nature reserves were not enough to protect local plant and animal life. One example is the northern Negev, where less than 5 percent of the land is protected and many species of animals and plants have become extinct.
The idea was adopted by the National Planning and Building Council, and the corridors were marked on various master plans. But only recently has it been decided to mark the corridors on Master Plan 35, the plan that sets the boundaries between areas slated for development and those to be protected. At the end of this month the authority will present a new report on ecological corridors at its annual conference. The report will detail the means of preserving the corridors, including a new map of all the areas in Israel and some areas over the pre-1967 border.
This document will be the first time the authority fully marks the ecological corridors and proposes methods for their management. It will also include areas like the Golan Heights, which in the past were considered open in terms of animal passage but are becoming increasingly blocked by buildings, infrastructure and farming.
The most complex challenge is how to manage areas that are not defined as reserves and are used for various purposes. “A good portion of the areas defined as ecological corridors are agricultural,” says Dotan Rotem, the nature authority’s ecologist for open spaces.
Rotem says that development should not take place in these areas, but farming should be allowed, and people should be allowed to make a living. Thus, the cooperation of local farmers is needed in maintaining the corridors.
The document proposes a policy of planning housing and other construction in consideration of the ecological corridors and leaving at least minimal room for the animals to pass where construction is necessary. Another proposal is special passages for animals where highways would otherwise block them.
The document also recommends avoiding artificial light that can disrupt the animals’ activity, and avoiding planting forests of pine and eucalyptus, which emit chemicals that disrupt the development of undergrowth. This recommendation is not expected to go over well with beekeepers, who want eucalyptus trees preserved for their bees to make nectar from.
Another challenge comes from high tension electric lines, of which there are more than 30,000 kilometers in Israel and pose an electrocution threat to birds. About two years ago, for example, 12 lesser kestrels, which are an endangered species, were electrocuted in one day. The document proposes that the authorities consider burying some high-tension wires underground in ecological corridors, which is an expensive proposition. In other areas, the wires could be insulated or marked to prevent birds colliding with them.
In some cases a long, narrow band can serve as an essential corridor. This is the case particularly for some streams, such as the Yarkon in Tel Aviv and eastward or the Kishon in the Haifa area, which pass through densely populated urban areas. This is was demonstrated about two and a half years ago when jackals made their way along the Yarkon and reached neighborhoods in Ramat Gan.
An essential element in maintaining these corridors is to have as little human intervention as possible in the development of streambank vegetation.
Architect and urban planner Shlomo Gartner, one of the people following the planning of the corridors, says that drawing a line on a master plan is not enough – extensive action must be taken to assure that they are maintained. “These corridors have no significance unless they have real width and that must be marked on maps. Their connection to open areas in cities must also be seen to, because there are natural elements there as well that must be preserved.”