Annual KKL-JNF Research Conference: Studying the Forest and the Environment
New research studies in the field of agriculture, forestry, water and recreation, which were undertaken with the support of the KKL-JNF Land Development Authority and with the assistance of friends of KKL JNF worldwide, were presented at the annual conference at the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research in Beit Dagan, May 9, 2012. The conference featured an award ceremony for the 2012 grants received from the René Karshon Foundation, which supports this research.
Efi Stenzler. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Yosef Eyal. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
“If there was ever anyone who thought that it was possible to manage open spaces by intuition,” said KKL¬JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, “we all understand by now that in order to do things right, we need serious and extensive research. A hundred and ten years ago, the inhabitants of this country did not enjoy the forests that we have here at present. Our job is to consider future generations, so that they too may enjoy these trees. KKL-JNF is not alone in this endeavor, however. We have been devising systems of cooperation in Israel and abroad, and we do not keep our findings only for ourselves. We share them with our neighbors in the Middle East and with other countries overseas.”
Gershon Avni. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
, Acting KKL-JNF Deputy Director-General and Director of Human Resources, said that research is an essential part of KKL-JNF's diverse activities. “These research studies have additional value. They attract interest from all over the world, and this is an honor for the scientists and the KKL-JNF professionals that work with them.” Eyal especially noted the field of agriculture in arid regions, for which KKL-JNF is famous all over the world.
Avi Perl, Chief Scientist at the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, declared that the research fund for scientists intends to continue investing in the fields of environment, ecology, forestry and pasture. “We aspire to broaden our collaboration with KKL-JNF,” he said, “in view of our understanding that research assists in forest preservation.”
Gershon Avni, KKL-JNF Land Development Authority, concluded the opening greetings by defining the aim of research, which is to identify gaps in knowledge and determine priorities. “Together with the academic institutions, we will take the greatest possible advantage of each and every study. As everyone knows, research is not enough. We also have to invest in the dissemination and assimilation of our findings.”
First Session: Advanced Fire Suppression Equipment
Firefighter in the Carmel. Photo:KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The first session of the conference was dedicated to the new fire preparation network and advanced means for fire suppression one year after the Carmel fire. The session was chaired by David Brand
, KKL-JNF Chief Forester. Brand reviewed KKL-JNF's activities pursuant to the massive fire, which included conferences and seminars with scientists and professionals from all over the world, including experts from the USA and Australia.
One of KKL-JNF's major projects in the past year has been developing fuel breaks for the protection of residential areas. Sixty-two communities have already been dealt with, covering an area of more than 8,000 dunams (eight square kilometers) at a cost of over 6 million shekels, and many more communities will be addressed in the coming year.
“It is important to explain that we are preserving the natural balance by fuel break development, so as not to create sterile areas that are completely exposed, but to provide the rescue forces that fight fires with better access,” said Brand.
Another important project being implemented by KKL-JNF is the acquisition of fire trucks. KKL-JNF is about to purchase twenty new Unimog fire trucks. These fire trucks are smaller than the usual ones, which allows for more speed and accessibility. KKL-JNF added a water canon to the bumper, which may be operated from inside the truck, in order to facilitate self-rescue in case of danger.
Brand concluded by noting that KKL-JNF is not the authority responsible for fire control in Israel. “We have fire trucks the way a person keeps a fire extinguisher in his house for an emergency.” He noted that the Israel Firefighting and Rescue Authority has learned from the Carmel fire and has also hired three hundred more firefighters.
Lt. Col. Rami Lieberman. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
One of the main issues discussed by the public after the Carmel fire is the question of aerial fire suppression. Lt. Col. Rami Lieberman
, the Israel Air Force (IAF) Aerial Fire Fighting Unit Commander, said that cooperation between his unit and KKL-JNF helps to protect nature and the quality of life in Israel. He also said that it was decided, as a result of the Carmel fire, to transfer responsibility for the aerial fire fighting force to the IAF. “We are the unit that defends human life, the environment and nature,” said Lieberman.
He reported that the unit operates eight fire suppression aircraft, on a basis of about six hundred annual flight hours, more than twice as much as in previous years. The unit’s mode of operation was formulated jointly by KKL-JNF, the IAF and other factors and bodies, and exercises have been done with the participation of the different firefighting factors.
The firefighting aircraft include an efficient watering computer system, and they are capable of transporting combustion material or foam and loading 3,000 liters of seawater in six minutes. There were 11,000 reports of fire events reported last year, and it is hard to determine which ones require aerial assistance.
Ron Haber, Director of Development at "Defensive Shield", presented an integrated system solution for fighting forest fires. “It is better to pour a glass of water on a match than a pail of water on a bonfire,” he said, presenting the motto and basis for the operating mode of dealing with fires, “and the critical process is in the detection and monitoring before the fire spreads.”
Haber presented new technologies with cameras that detect fires and report them automatically. He described robotic fire trucks that can suppress fires without endangering human lives. He also spoke about aerial firefighting means such as a passenger plane adapted for fire suppression with a twelve ton capacity for fire extinguishing material. Smart boxes installed on fire trucks can update necessary data every minute, including the location of the truck, the remaining quantity of extinguishing material and additional information.
Second Session: Grants for Scientists
Grant recipients Yoni Weitz and Phoebe Vananan. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archives
The second session of the conference was chaired by Prof. Zvi Mandel
and featured an award ceremony for the grants received from the René Karshon Foundation, which was established in 2005, about five years after Dr. Karshon’s passing.
Dr. Haim Zaban, Chairman of the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research Trustees Society, emphasized the importance of agricultural research and the advantages of cooperation with KKL-JNF.
Atty. Rivka Shprinzak congratulated the grant recipients and said that “the involvement of scientists in the field of forestry and environment is of immeasurable importance for the quality of our life in Israel.”
Prof. Gabriel Schiller spoke about the late Dr. Karshon, who was a renowned forestry scientist and Director of the Forest Research Department at the National Institute for Agricultural Research. “He was a walking encyclopedia, and there was no one with comparable capabilities. We lost an excellent scientist,” said Prof. Schiller.
Grant recipient Yoni Weitz presented his research on the dynamics of the spread of pines from planted forest to open spaces, and its impact on the landscape of plant life in Israel. The research study focuses on the Shahariya Forest, on Nahal Hahamisha in the Judean Hills and on the Eitan Forest next to Sataf. The purpose of the study is to investigate the connection between the rate of forest establishment and the environmental conditions, and then to build a forest spreading model.
L-R: Gershon Avni, Yosef Eyal, Shaul Manor, and Dr. Omri Bonneh. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Another grant recipient, Phoebe Vananan
, described her research on the response of trees in Mediterranean natural woodland to climatic changes. She examined, among other things, the effects of dryness on the Palestine Oak and the Mastic tree. The study also investigated tools for reducing damage to plants due to water scarcity.
At the conclusion of the session, a certificate of appreciation was presented to Shaul Manor, Secretary of the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research Trustees Society. It was presented by three representatives of KKL-JNF—Yosef Eyal, Deputy Director General, Dr. Omri Bonneh, Northern Region Director, and Gershon Avni, Director of the Land Development Authority.
Third Session: Biodiversity in the Forests
The third session of the conference, chaired by Sima Kagan, opened with a number of presentations on the topic of forestry.
Dr. Yigal Asam spoke about the effects of thinning treatment for mature Jerusalem Pine forests on the vitality of the trees, on natural regeneration and on biodiversity. This is a long-term, ecological study being done in conjunction with KKL-JNF. The research, which commenced a few years ago, investigates three main aims in forest management—finding ways to lengthen the life of the present generation of trees and improve its resistance, creating the next generation through a gradual process, and augmenting the biodiversity.
A number of locations in the Martyrs Forest in the Judean Hills were studied, and it was found that the index of leaf area was 30% to 50% lower following thinning. The growth rate of the trees left in the thinned forest rose considerably. Thinning the forest reduced the rate of mature tree mortality and also proved to be a significant tool for improving the water economy.
Prior to thinning, there were about 80 species of plants in the dense, aging forest. The study found that the greater the thinning, the faster the increase in the number of species, until it matches that of the open spaces, with about 160 different species.
Prof. Gabriel Schiller raised the question of what the optimal density is for pine trees in Yatir Forest, in view of climate changes, and said that the existing density charts, which are based on European charts, are not suitable for Israel and certainly not for a semi-arid region.
As to the question of what is the maximum number of trees or shrubs that can be sustained pursuant to the reduction in precipitation quantities in Israel, Prof. Schiller said that if we do not want Yatir Forest to die in a situation where there is less than 150 millimeters of effective annual rainfall, the density should be reduced from 30 trees per dunam to 20 trees per dunam. “No matter what we do, we will not see natural regeneration in Yatir Forest. We can only thin the forest and pray for its survival, so that it may endure as long as possible,” he said.
Dr. Eyal Rotenberg
Pine trees. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
expanded on the mortality of trees in Yatir Forest and presented his insights from twelve years of investigation and monitoring the eco-hydrology in that region. With normal rainfall conditions, he said, the forest can live well. The problem is that years of drought cause about 5% of the trees to die.
Dr. Neta Dorczin reviewed the different biological pesticide possibilities for the Sydney Golden Wattle. She defined the plant, whose origin is in Australia, as “one of the worst invasive species in Israel, which spreads quickly by creating a seed bank in the ground.” Biological pest control, which is being applied at present in South Africa, is done by means of a fungus, which harms the plant and causes its death, or a beetle, which eats the seeds. On option is also being considered using mosquitoes, whose females lay eggs in the flowers and prevent seed production.
Dr. Einat Sadot investigated why mature cuttings from forest trees to not take root, by means of molecular studies done in the laboratory.
Dr. Jan Landau explained how planting trees in grazing areas contributes to the health of the flocks, by reduced vulnerability to worms due to eating the Mastic tree, for example, which contains medicinal substances. Other trees, such as Carob and Oak, contain substances that control intestinal parasites. His recommendation was to plant a greater diversity of trees and not be tempted to uproot woodland shrubs.
Ornithologist Dr. Yossi Leshem and Gilad Friedman presented research on raptors in the Judean Lowland. Friedman, a doctoral student in the Tel Aviv University Zoology Department, is studying a fascinating phenomenon, the relocation of the Long-legged Buzzard from the cliffs in the Judean Hills to the trees in the Judean Lowland, and the competition this has engendered between that species and the Short-toed Eagle. “Through the raptors we can learn about how the activities of people affect the open spaces,” said Friedman about one of the reasons for the study’s importance.
The study is based on data collected by satellite transmitters attached to the backs of the birds. One of the curious findings discovered was that the Long-legged Buzzard migrates. It is not stationary as previously thought, and its migration is in the opposite direction than the usual. It flies north.
Dr. Leshem said that publishing studies such as this one could lead to change in several areas—open space preservation, promotion of tourism, education and fundraising.
The Fourth Session: From the Negev to the Golan
The fourth session was chaired by Menahem Zalutzky and reviewed research studies that covered areas from the Negev to the Golan.
Dr. Jose Greenzweig presented the effects of biotic and abiotic factors on biomass and biodiversity of shrubs and grasses in Yatir Forest. The conclusions drawn from the study were that in order to preserve the rich biodiversity, attention must be especially be paid to areas with steep slopes and highly rocky areas, and to find a balance between thinning the trees and stimulating the underbrush and the species found there. During the question and answer period, he said that contrary to popular opinion, there is a wealth of plant life under the pine needles, which is not harmed by the needles.
Shmuel Arbel studied KKL-JNF's systems for harvesting runoff and their influence on the Negev's hydrological regime. “Undoubtedly the harvested runoff contributes a great deal to soil preservation and the prevention of erosion,” he said. On a few occasions over the last few years, very strong currents in the same place were measured, where there was no flow at all nearby due to the runoff harvesting. The study also revealed that runoff harvesting does not reduce the flow in the Besor streambed, since the water does not reach it in any case, and the catch basins for runoff harvesting are tiny.
Dr. Pinchas Fine spoke about effluents from cowsheds in forest farm systems that are combined with pasture in the central Golan Heights.
Dr. Noga Collins-Kreiner
Happy cyclists. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
spoke about the popularity of bicycle paths in the forests. Questionnaires distributed to 1,200 bicyclers at different sites all over Israel, investigated their personal characteristics, the characteristics of their cycling, their interest in tourism development and their level of satisfaction. The main findings showed that 93% of cyclists are male, most of them between the ages of 31 and 50, and 66% possess higher education. Most of the cyclists live in central Israel, about half of them cycling 2 to 3 times a week, and 77% of them cycle in all seasons. “A new type of reserve duty,” was how Collins-Kreiner described this phenomenon.
The preferred areas for cycling were the Coastal Plain and the Jerusalem vicinity. The cyclists evidently prefer cycling close to home. To the question of what makes a trail attractive, most said scenery, shade and the level of difficulty. About 50% of the bicyclers said that they would pay for basic tourism facilities, but only up to a sum of NIS 50, and 62% expressed complete satisfaction with the KKL-JNF bike routes. In view of international trends, Collins-Kreiner estimated that people who do not conform to the present profile would soon be joining the cycling ranks, such as women, youth and people with lower levels of income and education.