KKL-JNF Foresters Evaluate Storm Alexa Damages

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 12:27 PM

“The main thing is to ensure the safety of the roads, trails and recreation areas; as far as the forest itself is concerned, it’s best to wait and see how well the trees manage to recover on their own."

KKL-JNF forestry experts take a professional tour of the Biriya and Meron forests on January 6th 2014, in order to assess the damage caused by Storm Alexa, as a first step to repairing these areas and making them once again accessible to the public. Meanwhile, repairs are underway in the forests surrounding Jerusalem. Storm Alexa has caused millions of shekels worth of damage in KKL-JNF forests.

Damaged adventure playground in Biriya Forest. Photos: Yoav Devir

Broken branches and frozen snow

Last month’s snowstorm, which caused serious damage throughout the country, has left its mark on Biriya Forest in northern Israel: whole trees have fallen, treetops have broken, access roads are blocked and many recreation areas have suffered damage. In KKL-JNF’s Northern Region, forestry workers and Afforestation Division staff are busy surveying the area in order to estimate the extent of the damage and are already planning how to rehabilitate the forest. So far some 9,000 dunam of the total forest area of 20,000 dunam (one dunam = approx a quarter of an acre) are estimated to have been damaged. Foresters in the Golan Heights are currently engaged in a similar survey, while in Jerusalem and the surrounding hills, repairs to recreation areas and forest trails are already underway.

Fallen pine trees in Biriya Forest. Photo: Yoav Devir

In the course of a professional tour of the Biriya and Meron forests on January 6th 2014, the experts agreed that rehabilitation efforts should focus on woodland trails and recreation areas, and that other locations could wait for the present. KKL-JNF’s Head Forester David Brand defined the objective of the tour as follows: “In the short term, our goal is to evaluate what action we have to take in order to repair the damage. In the long term, it’s important for us to achieve some new insights as a result of the storm and its consequences.”

Inside the forest, the damage can be seen at every turn, and its effects are obvious even to visitors who are not knowledgeable in forestry matters. Some of the paths are still closed because trees or large branches have fallen across them and blocked them. The main roads are lined with huge piles of tree trunks and branches that have been cleared to the margins to allow access. Many recreation areas are closed to visitors, because picnic tables and playground equipment have been damaged by falling trees and branches. And, of course, there is still a fear that additional trees and branches could still collapse and fall to the ground. Work has already begun on these recreation areas, so that they can be re-opened to the general public as soon as possible.

“We still don’t have a complete picture of the overall damage, but I’d glad to say that this time it doesn’t seem that entire sections of forest have collapsed, and so we won’t have to perform a complete tree-felling, as we did after the great storm of 1992,” said KKL-JNF’s Chief Scientist Dr. Omri Boneh. “The main thing is to ensure the safety of the roads, trails and recreation areas; as far as the forest itself is concerned, it’s best to wait and see how well the trees manage to recover on their own. I suspect that we’ll be pleasantly surprised and that most of the trees will renew their foliage naturally.”

Aviram Tzuk, KKL-JNF’s Regional Director in the Golan and Eastern Galilee, experienced the storm on a very personal level at his home in Moshav Amuka. “We sat in the house with no electricity and no heating, and every few minutes we heard another branch breaking, then a few seconds later we heard the tree come crashing down,” he said. “We were very concerned that the trees would fall on the houses – it was a real horror scenario.”

Broken branches cover the ground in Biriya Forest. Photo: Yoav Devir

During the storm, KKL-JNF teams were among the organizational representatives to take action in this emergency, and they busied themselves clearing main access routes and rescuing people trapped in the snow at various locations. Now, with the storm behind us and only a few patches of frozen snow left here and there in the forest, KKL-JNF has set to work once more, this time in order to repair the damage.

The plan is to deal first with all the recreation areas: fallen trees will be cleared away, treetops will be pruned for safety’s sake, and only then will it be possible to re-open these areas to the public. The next stage will be the re-opening of the blocked roads and paths through the forest – some 120 kilometers of access routes in all. An area of around 30 meters to each side of the routes will be cleared and the piles of fallen branches will be removed in order to prevent fires. In addition, some 20 kilometers of grazing fences need to be repaired and numerous cycle trails have to be mended and restored. The overall cost of the damage is estimated in millions of shekels.

At the same time, KKL-JNF will push ahead with care of all forests located at a height of 700 meters or more, which suffered damage in the storm: dead branches will be cleared away, broken branches will be cut back and dead trees cut down. No extensive treatment is planned for the other forests at this stage. Klil Adar, Director of KKL-JNF’s Northern Region Forest Division, explained: “Snowstorms are a natural phenomenon whose power and frequency do not damage the natural growth of the forest.”

According to the experts, the storm may actually have provided the forests with an opportunity for regeneration, as it has thinned out the trees naturally. There was general agreement that there is no need for extensive felling of broken trees in order to replace them with other species. Omri Boneh explains, however: “Whenever we have the opportunity to plant forests in the area, it’s best to give priority to sturdy and resistant species such as the cedar, wherever prevailing environmental and soil conditions permit.”

Surveying the forest on Mt. Meron. Photo: Yoav Devir

The cedar’s ability to withstand snowfalls is obvious when one looks around the forest: while pine trees have collapsed and broken, the flexible cedar branches’ angle of growth prevented snow from piling up on them; the branches bent, but did not break. On one side of the road the visitor sees broken pine trees, while on the other cedars stand undamaged. In Meron Forest it is clear that it is not just the planted trees that have suffered in the storm – the natural woodland, too, is damaged, and many of the old oak trees are broken.

Biriya Forest, of course, is not the only woodland to have suffered from the snowstorm, and Golan Heights foresters are likewise engaged in a survey of the damage. Mountain District Manager Hanoch Tzoref told us that the situation in and around Jerusalem is similar to that observed in northern Israel, with Jerusalem pines as the main victims, and he estimates that some 500 dunam around Jerusalem have suffered significant damage. He added that sections of woodland that were thinned recently have suffered much less than crowded plots of trees. Work on the rehabilitation of roads and recreation areas has already begun in the Jerusalem region: the routes were opened initially with the help of tractors, and in the next stage, broken trees and branches will be cleared away systematically.

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