KKL-JNF Attends Annual Conference for Science and Environment

“The conference is a place for scientists, NGOs, decision-makers, and the general public to meet in order to advance environmental issues in Israel”
Scientists, experts, and officials gathered at the Weizmann Institute for the annual Conference for Science and Environment, which took place on June 21 and 22, 2018. The topic of this year’s conference was Challenges in Environmental Sciences: From Local to Global Scales. A special session given by KKL-JNF was dedicated to monitoring as a tool for managing sustainable forests.

The major topics that trouble scientists and environmentalists - subjects that are relevant to the lives of all of us, including climate change, environmental pollution, ecosystems, agriculture, biodiversity, soil, and water - were discussed at the conference, together with a long list of others that are on the global agenda. KKL-JNF deals with these topics in various ways.

“The conference is a place for scientists, NGOs, decision-makers, and the general public to meet in order to advance environmental issues in Israel,” said the conference directors, Professor Michal Green, chairwoman of the Israel Society of Ecology and the Environmental Sciences, and Professor Dan Yakir, chairman of the annual Conference for Science and Environment, in their statement.


Preserving the Forests

Among the many subjects covered at the conference, one session about KKL-JNF’s forests aroused special interest among the participants. The lectures addressed the various aspects of monitoring as a tool for sustainable forest management.

Asaf Karavani, KKL-JNF’s Coordinator for Research and Foreign Relations in KKL-JNF’s Afforestation Division, began the session by saying: “I meet many young people who desire to enter the forestry field, and that gives me a great deal of hope for the future. KKL-JNF will continue to support anyone who works in this field by providing assistance to students, research grants, accessibility to information, and initiating collaborations.” About KKL-JNF’s forests, he said, “Each forest has its own purpose, and we adapt the desired management interface to it. Monitoring enables us to learn while doing.”

Yahel Porat, KKL-JNF Afforestation Division Ecology Director, presented long-term research on the nesting of diurnal raptors in KKL-JNF’s coniferous forests. “The term pine deserts that was used in the past is not applicable anymore, and we are finding biodiversity in the planted coniferous forests,” he said. “Since our goal is to nurture and preserve the forest as a supporter of biodiversity, we must examine what we know about what exists in the forest and what we must do in order to preserve it.”

He explained that the purpose of KKL-JNF’s monitoring program, which began approximately five years ago, is to check the abundance of raptor species, examine the effect of the forest landscapes and the effect of the human activity in the forest, and map the nesting areas. “KKL-JNF foresters have been participating in the process since it began,” he said. “This increased awareness of the importance of protecting the raptors in their forests.”

Six large forests, from the Negev to the north of Israel, were chosen for monitoring: Yatir, Lahav, Eshta’ol and Tzora, Ramat Menashe, Gilboa, and Biriya. Lookouts and monitoring of raptors are done in each forest, and seven species have been located so far: the short-toed snake eagle, the common kestrel, the Eurasian sparrow hawk, the Eurasian hobby, the long-legged buzzard, the black-winged kite, and Bonelli’s eagle.

The survey found that even those forests with many human visitors and activities have raptor nests. “We did not know that there was such a variety of raptors in the coniferous forests. It was very surprising to find that out,” he said. “We learned that most of the raptor species that exist in Israel nest in forests as well.”

The database and the maps are given to foresters to use as tools in managing the forest. Among the practical instructions that have already been issued to the field are to avoid thinning trees during the raptors’ nesting season.

Yotam Perelman of the Volcani Institute presented findings from the long-term monitoring system of the pine forests in Jerusalem and their implications for forest management. “Israel’s pine forests are undergoing a change from a simple structure to one that is more complex - multi-age, multi-species, and multi-layer,” he said. “The way the forests are managed is changing accordingly.”

The study included surveys of vegetation, optical measurements, and measurements of leaf area. The most significant factor affecting total leaf area was found to be the amount of humidity in the habitat. These data match those of research that has been done all over the world.

The question arises as to how monitoring affects management - or, as Perelman put it, “What can we do with that?” It turns out that a density level of 30 to 35 trees per dunam is an upper threshold, beyond which density does not contribute to leaf area because the trees begin to compete with one another, and each develops a smaller leaf area. This statistic is true of all areas in Israel.
Shani Gleitman, an ecologist at the KKL-JNF Afforestation Division, offered some new perspectives on dealing with invasive species in the forest. “Invasive species affect biodiversity, agriculture, the economy, public health, and the functioning of ecological systems,” she said. She cited as an example the small fire ant, which was first seen in Israel in 2005. “This ant hurts agriculture, quality of life, and public health,” she said. “The damage it causes is estimated at approximately one billion shekels per year.”

How are invasive species dealt with? “We prevent invasive species from being imported, reduce their spread to new areas, and exterminate species that have already invaded and established themselves in the forest,” Gleitman said. “That is why monitoring, mapping, species prioritization, spatial prioritization, and repeated treatment are required over the years.” As an example, she cited ragweed, a plant that is in the first stages of invasion in Israel. KKL-JNF workers are mapping, monitoring, and offering foresters professional assistance in dealing with it. Another well-known invasive species in Israel is the blue-leafed wattle tree (Acacia saligna), which established a large population in the Ben Shemen Forest. Thanks to repeated treatment over the years, the presence of this species in the forest has diminished.

Dr. Tamir Klein of the Weizmann Institute presented an analysis of tree mortality as an outcome of climate change. There is no organized information anywhere on earth about the scope of this occurrence. An important study, conducted by KKL-JNF, was begun at the Weizmann Institute’s Tree Lab to examine whether tree mortality has increased since the establishment of the State of Israel, whether it has to do with climate change, and which species are particularly affected. The data were gathered from a variety of sources, from historical accounts of KKL-JNF foresters from years past to current satellite images.

Dr. Klein gave four main reasons for tree mortality in Israel: fires, drought, pests, and snowstorms. The survey revealed that approximately half of the tree mortality was caused by fires, and a quarter of it was caused by drought - which, of course, encourages fires, and also makes the trees more vulnerable to pests. It was found that tree mortality has risen since 1991. Broadleaf trees were found to have higher survival ability than conifers.

Omer Golan, Director of the KKL-JNF Afforestation Division Forest Health and Protection Department, spoke about coping with tree drought and mortality, with emphasis on the damage caused by bark beetles. “A forester who wishes to treat a forest asks himself where the damage has appeared and the extent of its severity,” he said. “An answer can be obtained only through surveys.” Since it is not always possible to reach and survey every part of the forest, KKL-JNF officials decided in 2017 to begin aerial surveys, which create maps that show the dry areas. “These maps serve foresters as treatment tools for the forest,” Golan said.

At the close of his remarks, he said, “The Afforestation Division encourages collaborations in conducting studies on the topic so that our forests will be prepared for climate change and for the future.


Developing Water Sources

The subject of water received a great deal of attention at the conference, particularly in a special session entitled Water Security and Sustainable Development. The lectures during the session focused upon desalinated water used for agriculture, water security, coping with drought, irrigation with reclaimed wastewater, and Israel’s seasonal streams.

KKL-JNF, which is extensively involved in the sphere of water conservation, assists in Israel’s water economy via many projects that were developed with the help of its friends all over the world. Among these projects are: the establishment of over 230 water reservoirs throughout Israel to collect reclaimed wastewater and floodwater and recycle them for use in agriculture. The building of biofilters to collect surface runoff; groundwater purification and penetration; green basins similar to natural swamps for purifying polluted water; the rehabilitation and care of seasonal streams for human beings and the environment; and agricultural research and development for the efficient use of water used for irrigation.

Professor Meagan Mauter of Carnegie Mellon University began the session with a lecture about the use of technology to analyze economic aspects of using desalinated water for agriculture. Among other subjects, her study examined the cost and benefit of using desalinated water for farming. It concluded that the cost of desalination was higher than the benefit that could be gained from increased agricultural yield.

The lecture of Professor Avi Shaviv of the Technion addressed water security, a topic that is troubling more and more areas of the world. “The definition of water security is availability of water in sufficient quality and amounts,” he said, noting that approximately 780 million people on earth suffer from water shortage. Since this number is expected to double in future years, research in this area has special importance.

He concluded with a survey of Israel’s water economy. “Unlike other places on earth, we specialized in using purified wastewater for agriculture. When that, too, was not enough, we expanded desalination. At the same time, we are investing greatly in agricultural research and development for the efficient use of water. The proper management of water resources is the key to improving the situation.”

Israel has been coping with drought for five consecutive years. “The water economy in Israel, as in the entire region, is dealing with many challenges,” said Giora Shaham, Chairman of Israel’s Water Authority. The forecast that he presented for the next decade is a continued worsening of the situation, mainly due to expected changes in climate. “Desalinating water, using water recycled for agriculture, developing infrastructures for supplying water, and encouraging conservation in water consumption are the keys to dealing with the situation,” he said.

Regarding water desalination, he said, “Sometimes we are asked why we do not build more desalination plants, and instead cut back on water quotas for agriculture and ask the public to please conserve water. It is important to remember that desalination is a very expensive process. Still, we are at the height of the planning process for two more desalination facilities as preparation for the coming years.”

Referring to the water crisis in the Middle East as a whole, he said: “We know that the neighboring countries are suffering very badly from the situation. Israel is committed to helping find solutions for the entire region, and sees their problems as the problems of all of us.”

Professor Yona Chen of the Hebrew University spoke about the effect of irrigation using purified wastewater in farming. He began by presenting the advantages of using recycled water: the creation of a new water source, the preservation of the environment, a relatively affordable price, and fertilization of the soil. He also mentioned the disadvantages of using reclaimed wastewater for irrigation, such as fear that micro-pollutants might remain even after the water has undergone purification, the formation of blockages in the drip-irrigation pipes, and insufficient penetration of the water into the soil. The solution that he presented to all of these problems was to continue to improve the level of water purification.

The remarks of David Pargament, Director-General of the Yarkon River Authority, closed the session. “A stream is more than water flowing along a hillside,” he said, likening the system of streams to a tree with many branches. He listed the various agencies in Israel that deal with the topic, saying as he ended his lecture: “Many decisions on a variety of subjects are needed so that the streams can provide the ecological systems that we need.”

The conference ended after two full and fascinating days. The experts from all over the world returned to their countries, the researchers went back to their studies, and the decision-makers returned to their daily routines. The environmental challenges and the way that human beings will choose to address them will affect the future of all of us, everywhere on earth. KKL-JNF is committed to keep on doing its part for sustainable development for the benefit of people and the environment in Israel.