New Vision For The JNF: A Billion Trees By 2100

by Maskil on August 18, 2009

JNF Achievements And Challenges

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) was founded in 1901 – a little over a century ago – and began planting trees seriously in 1908 (in Hulda, in memory of Theodor Herzl). It has since planted an incredible 250 million trees, mostly in the second half of its existence (according to this JVL article).

In its second century of existence, however, the JNF faces more than its fair share of challenges. Some are external (e.g. Netanyahu’s land grab in the guise of land reform), while others are internal (e.g. its inability to present a single face to the outside world, particularly with regard to its Israeli and US arms). It has also been a victim of the “Zionism is Racism” mindset, with various ideological and legal challenges directed at its policy of reserving land purchased with Jewish donations for the benefit of the Jewish people.

JNF Program Of Work

According to the JNF website, its work in Israel is divided into the following seven action areas:

Forestry & Ecology, Water, Community Development, Security, Education, Research & Development, and Tourism & Recreation.

Its Blueprint Negev initiative (“a 10-year, $600 million campaign to revitalize the Negev Desert and make it home for future generations.”) encompasses all these action areas.

This appears to be a sound, comprehensive plan, keeping the JNF relevant to Israel’s needs for living infrastructure. Is it enough of a vision, though, to inspire the JNF’s traditional donors (large and small), supporters, volunteers and the public at large (within both Israel and the Diaspora)? Is there another over-arching vision that could serve as the flagship for the JNF’s efforts over the century ahead?

Israel’s Low Forest Cover (LFC)

Despite having planted a quarter of a billion trees over the last century (and despite Israel being the only country to have ended the 20th Century with more trees than it began with), Israel is still classified as having Low Forest Cover (LFC), however that is defined.

A Billion Trees In Israel By 2100!?

Given these factors, perhaps that “over-arching vision” for the JNF (and conservation in Israel as a whole) should be the JNF equivalent of UNEP’s Billion Tree Campaign: to have planted one billion trees in Israel by the end of the century. (The 250 million-odd already planted (plus natural or legacy forests) would be deducted from the total, leaving a target of perhaps 6-700 million trees.)

Such a JNF Billion Tree Campaign would support and complement the action areas referred to above, as well as helping Israel to become a net negative contributor to man-made Climate Change. It would complete the transformation of Israel’s landscape and climate (which began with Zionist colonisation 150-odd years ago), and could quite conceivably mitigate much of the local impact of Global Warming and desertification.

Is It Achievable?

Planting something in the order of 8 million trees per annum over the next 90 years is an extremely ambitious (but not impossible) target. (Abu Dhabi for instance, planted some 130 million trees in a matter of decades. Although Israel does not have Abu Dhabi’s deep pockets, it does demonstrate that such afforestation schemes can be “ramped up”. The Dust Bowl Shelterbelt Project and China’s Green Wall are other examples.)

Gearing Up For The JNF Billion Tree Campaign

The JNF Billion Tree Campaign would, however, require streamlining, automating and gearing up the entire process of afforestation or reforestation, including:

  • A comprehensive review of its previous policy of favouring pine monocultures as nurse crops, to determine whether this has achieved the desired results.
  • A massive expansion of Israel’s tree seedling nursery capability.
  • The use of satellite mapping and GPS technology to inventory Israel’s existing forest assets, and identify and accurately plot the areas to be planted, with access roads and firebreaks present from day one.
  • Inventing or perfecting automated tree planting all-terrain vehicles, capable of handling the entire process of planting seedlings, including digging the hole, composting, placing the seedling, filling the hole and compacting the soil and watering the seedling. The vehicles should ideally navigate by means of GPS linked to a forestry management system that would implement the correct mix, spacing and proportion of tree species to achieve the region’s climax vegetation within a single generation.

Supporting Activities

  • Renewed planting in urban areas, including sidewalk trees and parks.
  • The requirement that owners of private land over a certain size also prepare and carry out tree planting plans.

Regional Politics

Palestine west of the Jordan forms a single geographical entity, and is also (to a lesser extent than in the past) almost entirely under Israel’s control. The plans should therefore be drawn up to include the so-called Palestinian Territories, but implementation may have to wait for more peaceful times.

A Zionist Renewal?

Zionism and the venerable bodies associated with it (including the JNF) have for the past 40 years been drawn into the mire of the Settlement Enterprise – the graveyard for decent Zionist hopes and dreams. Bold mega-projects such as a JNF Billion Tree Campaign (and my Med-Kinneret Canal proposal) could serve to revitalise and renew Zionism and give Zionists and Lovers of Israel a vision for the 21st Century.

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