Israel Saves Ancient Eucalyptus Trees in Blow to Planned Bus Line

Zafrir Rinat
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The Eucalyptus Boulevard near Acre, Israel, today.
The Eucalyptus Boulevard near Acre, Israel, today.Credit: Rami Shllush
Zafrir Rinat

Israel decided that dozens of the most impressive eucalyptus trees will not be cut down in favor of a mass-transit project due to their great landscape and historical value.

The trees, located between the community of Bustan HaGalil and the city of Acre in northern Israel, will not be cut down decided Erez Barkae, the Forest Commissioner and Head of Division of Forestry and Trees at Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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Barkae reached the decision after an objection was raised to a permit given to the transport infrastructure company Netivei Israel clear the trees.

Netivei Israel promotes the construction of an exclusive bus lane around Acre, which already operates in Haifa. The project, called Metronit, is one of the main means of improving public transport in the Greater Haifa area, which also includes Acre.

According to the Metronit plans, Netivei Israel planned to cut down 121 trees in the designated area – including 50 of the Eucalyptus Camaldunensis variety, some of which are particularly large and impressive, and constitute part of the historic boulevard. According to the company, it’s necessary to cut them down to enable the Metronit line to pass a drainage channel nearby.

Four months ago, a permit was given to cut down the trees by the Regional Forestry Commissioner. The Regional Council of Mateh Asher appealed the decision to the national commissioner, joined by environmental groups and local residents. According to objectors, the eucalyptuses constitute a historic boulevard that must not be cut down for any project.

They argue that alternatives can be found for the route of the Metronit line, and there is a high likelihood that in addition to the 50 eucalyptus trees slated for chopping, many other nearby trees designated for preservation would also be harmed by the project.

Eucalyptus trees near Acres, Israel, today.Credit: Rami Shllush

Netivei Israel, however, argued that this is an important metropolitan transit project, meant to connect Haifa with the Krayot and Acre, eventually planned to reach Nahariya.

The company claims that the planning of the line in the area in question took the existing trees into consideration and minimized the harm to the so-called Eucalyptus Boulevard.

The National Forestry Commissioner noted the importance of the boulevard, accepting the appeal: “There is no doubt that this is a row of ancient trees which includes magnificent and impressive specimens. This is one of the most magnificent and impressive boulevards to be seen in our land.”

He noted that the monetary value of the trees is especially high. Among others, Barkae noted a tree slated for chopping, the radius of whose trunk is 2.65 meters and the value of which is estimated at $140,000, or 477,000 shekels.

He noted that Netivei Israel did indeed take the trees and their conservation into account but despite this he reached the conclusion that the works in the area would damage the root networks of other trees, designated to remain standing by the company’s plan.

In addition, the National Forestry Commissioner also mentioned the great importance of the boulevard in creating shade and reducing air and noise pollution for area residents. Barkai further determined that the execution of transportation works in the area is based on two zoning plans, in which the conservation of trees was not considered at all, and the forestry clerk was not consulted.

Information regarding the importance of the trees had not been presented to the planning authorities that approved these plans. The commissioner's final conclusion was that cutting down the trees would be unreasonable and disproportionate and therefore the approval to cut down the trees should be rescinded.

It should be noted that in recent years thousands of trees have been cut down to clear routes for transportation lines, including Tel Aviv’s light rail. Among others, trees along Arlozorov Street in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa were allowed to be cut down to make way for the rail. In all these cases, forestry clerks were persuaded that the chopping was justified.

Moshe Davidovitch, head of the Regional Council Mateh Asher, said in response to the Forestry Clerk’s decision: “This is a historic moment. We managed to stop this speeding train and bring about reconsideration in favor of the environment, these ancient and magnificent trees and the past and future of this place.”

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