The importance of community forests is reflected in environmental, social, educational and economic assets that draw city-dwellers close to nature and their local heritage, and encourage identification with conservation. Residents enjoy accessible, ready woodlands close to home, a slice of nature that offers refuge from city tumult and air pollution.
Woodland belts around built-up areas are considered highly important the world over. They are seen as a vital environmental resource for quality of life, primarily serving nearby residential communities. The term ”forest” does not necessarily denote an expansive wooded area, but applies to all urban green areas and the environs. More often, it refers to groves, shady boulevards and gardens. This is the community forest, also known elsewhere in the world as an ”urban forest.”
In developed countries at the start of the 21st century, more than 80% of the population lives in urban areas where open landscapes are a limited resource, and when they do exist, they are distant. In Israel, more than 90 of the population lives in urban communities. Population density and development pressures harm green open spaces and we are witness to their steady erosion, not only from direct construction work but from the development of railway lines, highways and communications infrastructure.
The importance of conserving community forests for public benefit is thus understandable. Community forests are important to air quality. Trees absorb pollutants from the air and sequester carbon dioxide gas, which exacerbates global warming. They help reduce city heat and radiation, contribute to maintaining biodiversity – wild plants and animals – and create appealing scenery and pleasant residential environs. Community forests can be utilized to rehabilitate areas damaged by industrialization and development. Moreover, forest recreation is healthy. Community forests generally offer footpaths, bicycle trails and orienteering routes. Also, they are an ideal venue for social, educational and community activities and events in the heart of nature, and a social leveler – where all city residents can meet an equal footing regardless of social or cultural status.
The structured process of fostering community forests near Israel’s towns and rural communities was launched by KKL-JNF several years ago. The work has earned widespread appreciation and proved highly successful thanks to the fruitful partnership of planning and execution by KKL-JNF foresters, community volunteers and local authorities.