Saving the Otters and Olive-tree Warblers of Kiryat Shmona

When Ophir Tomer emerged from the bushes of Ein Zahav Stream, into which he had suddenly jumped a few minutes before, he could barely contain his joy: "It's a Parage aegeria - I managed to take a picture!" The item in question is a beautiful, rare butterfly, at home in the heart of this streambed just outside Kiryat Shmona.

Johanna Nezri

The butterfly survey that brought Tomer into the area of the stream known here as "the jungle" is part of an ongoing effort by 15 local residents to improve the quality of life in their city.

The Ein Zahav Stream does not match the associations that most Israelis have with this city near the border with Lebanon. The idea that Kiryat Shmona city is completely preoccupied by security and social problems must be set aside when one meets the group that has dedicated itself to saving the stream and that is headed by Johanna Nezri, a landscape architect and city resident.

To get away from the urban hustle and bustle you need only take a short walk from the city's old tenements. You'll find yourself in a stream the likes of which no other city in Israel can boast. The 2.5-kilometer-long stream is the centerpiece of a 100-dunam (25-acre ) park.

The fact that in the summer the stream runs dry, endangering its flora and fauna, has galvanized the group into trying to save it. The springs that feed the stream emerge from the traffic lanes of the city's main street, Tel Hai Boulevard. The nearby Spring Supermarket is the only evidence that the buildings imprisoned by the asphalt lanes are pumps that draw the water into pipes.

The springs produce about 3 million cubic meters of water a year. Almost all is used by the city, with about 13 percent going to the Neviot mineral water bottling plant.

Nezri and her group, assisted by the chapter of the environmental organization Green Course (Magama Yeruka ) from the adjacent Tel Hai Academic College and by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, three years ago waged a successful public battle against planned construction in the southern part of the park. But the real danger to the stream is the disappearence of its water in summer: The otters, porcupines, rodents, Caspian turtles and various species of fish that once lived here are no longer seen. However, the recent survey turned up a rare bird, the olive-tree warbler, and a rare plant, the silk vine.

According to Nezri, "The findings of the survey will help us in our fight to preserve the stream ... The city deserves an urban park."