Residents of Forested Israeli Town Fight Plan to Cut Down Trees

The tree-cutting project, intended to protect the Tivon community from forest fires, is set to begin Sunday; residents say the oak groves, besides being the town's hallmark, also protect them from pollution coming from Haifa Bay.

People spend time in nature in Kiryat Tivon, April 25, 2016.
Rami Shllush

Residents of Tivon, located in the forested hills southwest of Haifa, are fighting a plan to cut down trees near their community. The tree-cutting project, intended to protect the community from forest fires, is to begin Sunday; residents say it will cause undue damage to the oak groves that protect the them from pollution and have become the town's hallmark.

The plan, which aims to create a buffer zone between Tivon’s homes and the forest, received a boost following the state comptroller’s report on emergency preparedness, released in September. The report stated that such buffer zones were necessary, as were breaks in the forest in order to provide fire trucks a means of access.

One activist, Oren Azari, says he knows the risk of fires has to be reduced, but that there are less harmful ways to do it. He noted that the Tivon Local Council's scheme, suitable for pine forests, was adopted for the oak groves around the community, but pines ignite much quicker than oaks.

Tivon residents against the plan say it will damage the ecosystem and the special character of their community, as well as felling some centuries-old oaks. They also say the plan is unclear and was never put on paper. “The council and the planner ask us to trust them, but they refuse to sign anything that is said,” an activist said.

Tivon resident Nalini Leichter said the activists had made an alternative proposal based on the opinion of ecologists who are forest fire experts, but the town council was not interested in hearing it. Leichter says she and other activists had a feeling the town council is simply trying to protect itself, “to get something done before the summer,” when most fires occur.

According to Leichter, in influx of air pollution from the Haifa Bay area is among the expected adverse effects of the plan. The trees, she says, “are the only thing that somehow stands between us and the bay.”

Tivon Local Council Chairman David Arieli dismissed the activists’ claims. “With all due respect, I prefer to listen to my people and not to people who have no expertise,” Arieli told Haaretz. "Public participation is not 100 percent what the public wants but rather listening to the public." He said that three public meetings had been held and a number of objections to the plan had been filed, but most of them had been rejected. “We are going in a softened, proportionate way, accompanied by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and with a supervisor who is an agronomist and was in charge of town beautification for years,” he added.

“If people want to band together that’s their right, but I don’t talk to people who don’t know what they’re saying, I talk to professionals," said Arieli. "I have the humility to say ‘I don’t understand’ and take the best experts there are. Some people don’t have this humility and they think they understand everything.”