The JNF’s pine forests: Pine deserts or nurse crops?

by Maskil on February 14, 2008

The Green Prophet blog (“Foreseeing a green, environmentally-sound future for Israel and its neighbours.”) commented on this recent Haaretz article regarding the JNF’s maturing pine forests. The article makes the case for rehabilitating the reputation of these much-maligned plantations, but also raises some additional questions. From the article:

…over the years, the pine forests became the focus of attacks and scorn, and the tree soon became identified with Jewish National Fund forests. The monotonous pine landscape, which appeared to have been copied and pasted all over the Galilee, the coast, the Jerusalem hills and the northern Negev, was poorly received by nature lovers who wanted to see local species and groves indigenous to the Land of Israel.

“Now we are seeing a process of selection through natural renewal,” Osem says. “Trees that survived the selection process spread their seeds. The forest thus adapts itself to the region. The assumption is that after several generations, the forest will have adapted to its environment. A generation for a pine is 80 to 100 years. The approach today is that the forest’s natural processes will create the next forest, a diversified, local forest.”

“In order to reach a diversified forest, which is what we are aiming at today, we must start with a pioneering forest, a forest that grows quickly and creates a canopy for undergrowth, which is the next generation of the forest,” says Zidan.

We are left with the impression that the pine monoculture did no great harm to the JNF’s afforestation efforts, although a generation (in pine forest terms) may have been lost due to the fixation on pines. Is this not in itself a problem, i.e. would these areas not be a great deal closer to their managed climax vegetation had a more diversified planting regimen been followed?

Is the emergence of this next generation of forest cover therefore a matter of planning or luck? Did nature correct the JNF’s mistakes (basically pull their chestnuts out of the fire), or did this happen in terms of a far-sighted plan?

According to the JNF (US) website, “The Bible tells us that God originally filled the land with olive, pine, cypress, tamarisk, acacia, and carob trees. These are the species that we plant today to renew and nurture the land.” Is this an admission that a nurse crop was not really a necessary phase in the rehabilitation of these areas, or that the pine nurse crop may not have been the best choice?

Perhaps what we now need are clear statements from the KKL/JNF Israel’s forestry division regarding the following:

  • Are nurse crops still needed, or can future plantings more closely reflect the desired climax species mix?
  • If nurse crops are still required, what will the makeup be, or will the pine monoculture remain?
  • Is there a plan to help migrate existing forests to a more mixed/indigenous composition, or will nature be left to take its course?

Let’s hope these issues will be addressed before planting begins on the next generation of forests in Israel.

Links/Reading/Resources:

Green Prophet » Blog Archive » Israeli Forests Are Pining Away

Clearing the pine tree’s name – Haaretz – Israel News

Holy Land Certificate

Green Prophet

Jewish National Fund: Plant Trees and Bring Water to Israel

Forests in Israel

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