LDA Conference: Science and Technology for Forests

Sunday, July 05, 2015 4:38 PM

Land Development Authority research conference and the award ceremony for René Karshon grants at the ARO (Agricultural Research Organization) Volcani Center on June 28th, 2015.

For many years, KKL-JNF has been leading ecological research and development with the aim of protecting the forest and natural habitats. The one-day LDA (Land Development Authority) research conference and the award ceremony for René Karshon grants, which took place on June 28 at the ARO (Agricultural Research Organization) Volcani Center, was an excellent platform for the presentation of the diverse research in which KKL-JNF is involved and for sharing information between scientists, professionals and students.

Opening remarks

Dr. David Brand. Photo: Yoav DevirThe conference was opened by Dr. David Brand, Director of the KKL-JNF Forestry Division and KKL-JNF Chief Forester, who invited the representatives of the participating organizations to present opening greetings.

Mr. Koby Mor, Director of the KKL-JNF Land Development Authority, noted that KKL-JNF attributes great importance to ecological research and agricultural R&D and invests considerable resources in them. “Forests are subject to many threats,” he said, “such as climate changes, pests and the collapse of ecosystems, and KKL-JNF addresses these threats by means of these different research studies and integrating their findings, in order to ensure that forests remain healthy and resilient, for the sake of all who benefit from them.”

Prof. Yoram Kapulnik, Senior Research Scientist at the ARO Volcani Center, said that “KKL-JNF and the Volcani Center have been walking a long way together” and mentioned one of the new fields of research that KKL-JNF initiated - sustainable agriculture. “This is the time to sit down and think about how we can leave this country for the next generation with a minimum of environmental damage, and KKL-JNF is our natural partner for this. This conference is an opportunity to share knowledge.”

L-R: Prof. Yoram Kapulnik, David Leffler, Kobi Mor & Dr. Haim Messing. Photo: Israel Malovani, KKL-JNF Photo ArchiveIn his greetings, Mr. David Leffler, Director General of the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, related to the dangers of climate change. “This is a major topic preoccupying the world, and we have to be part of it,” he said. Regarding the local Israeli aspect, he said, “We have to protect the open spaces together especially at a time when housing is a priority on the public agenda.”

In his transmitted greetings, Mr. Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman, reviewed the spectrum of projects undertaken by KKL-JNF with the assistance of its friends worldwide in response to the environmental challenges in Israel and said, “Forestry is not limited to planting trees, and KKL-JNF foresters engage in planning, interfacing and monitoring. KKL-JNF has invested a great deal in water technology, such as in research studies on water sensitive cities and biospheres.”

First Session: Agriculture and Forest

The first session was chaired by Dr. Brand. KKL-JNF’s contribution to agricultural R&D was presented by Mr. Elkana Ben Yashar, Director of the northern R&D station. “Agriculture,” said Ben Yashar, “is the only source for supplying food to the world, and it also preserves green lungs in many regions.”

Presentation on planning, interfacing and monitoring by Dr. David Brand. Photo: Yoav DevirHe said that the R&D stations help adapt agricultural methods to the soil, water and climate conditions in the different regions of Israel, and also noted that “the agricultural R&D station is a unique Israeli model being learned in other countries.”

The Northern Israel R&D deals with a great diversity of agricultural fields including deciduous orchards, sub-tropical produce, vineyards, citrus, field vegetables, decorative plants, edible mushrooms and cattle for meat. Ben Yashar mentioned a number of research studies being conducted jointly with KKL-JNF: truffle production, mushroom production on shredded timber, coping with invasive pests, pasture for cattle, water drilling in Shamir for supplying water to the farmers of the Golan, and breeding tilapia fish.

“KKL-JNF helps make agriculture in Israel more efficient as a result of R&D applications,” concluded Ben Yashar, “and this makes it possible to live in rural areas and paint them green.”

Dr. Brand presented new directions in the field of forest planning, interfacing and monitoring and said that “the purpose of the forest is to provide a range of ecosystem services for the inhabitants of Israel, such as recreational services, biodiversity support and the preservation of natural and historic sites,” and in order to achieve these goals, a designation is defined for each unit of forested area, which dictates the configuration of the vegetation: multipurpose, recreation, historic, nature sites, firebreak areas and monitoring for research.

Until 1970, the customary planting density in Israel was around 400 saplings per dunam (1600 per acre). Since the 1990s, however, planting density has been classified according to the habitat quality and the types of trees. In current forest management theory, the designation of the forest and the level of investment in it also have an influence, and planting density has decreased significantly.

Dr. Brand noted that a series of studies and monitoring, and the creation of updated mapping, enable adjustment of the forest management interface to the defined designation and to the state of the forest. 

Presentation on biological pest control by Prof. Zvi Mendel. Photo: Yoav DevirEntomologist Prof. Zvi Mendel from the Plant Protection Institute at the ARO Volcani Center spoke about biological pest control in the planted forests in Israel and said that “biological pest control is perhaps one of the best tools for maintaining a forest with a tweezer. Forty percent of pests are invasive species, and the most effective way of treating them, short term and long term, is by biological pest control, in other words, by bringing a natural enemy from one place to another place.”

Prof. Mendel gave many examples of how natural enemies of different pests have solved many problems in Israel’s forests. Icerya purchasi (cottony cushion scale) was causing a great deal of damage to Spartium junceum (Spanish broom) all over the country, and an Australian fly eradicated it. When the dark winged scale insect Paleococcus fuscipennis began damaging pine trees, a predatory beetle and a parasitic fly from Spain were summoned to vanquish the adversary. The small cedar aphid was eliminated using a wasp that immigrated to Israel from France.

“The natural enemies imported to Israel undergo tests in order to confirm that they are specific to the pest and ensure that they themselves do not become pests,” said Prof. Mendel. “New pests continue to surprise us, and we search relentlessly for ways to control them.”

Mr. Shmuel Arbel, former Director of the Soil Erosion Research Station at the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development presented the audience with 25 years of insights about the contribution of forests in reducing floodwater and soil erosion in the Northern Negev. “The massive soil erosion in the Negev is visible even without scientific measurement,” said Arbel, “and the forests planted by KKL-JNF are extremely helpful in preventing erosion.”

Green area in Negev where flood water was harvested, as a pose to the dry area in front where the water simply flowed away. Photo: Yoav Devir As an example, he noted that 22 flooding events within 4 years were noted in a grazing area next to Yatir Forest compared to a single event with a negligible discharge in the same amount of time within forest itself. Discharge in pastures reaches up to forty times more than in forests in the event of heavy rainfall.

The importance of the work done by KKL-JNF to harvest floodwater is especially noticeable during a period of drought, when areas developed by KKL-JNF have remained green while nearby areas have become completely desiccated with no remaining vegetation whatsoever. During rainy seasons, floodwater harvesting and afforestation provide flood protection, which preserves soil and property and even saves human lives.

“Forest interface and floodwater harvesting assist us in the protection of water resources, in reducing the effects of drought on vegetation, in preserving the soil and in reducing damage during floods. As far as I am concerned, this is the green approach in planning drainage and protection from floods,” concluded Arbel.

Ms. Anat Gold, Director of the KKL-JNF Southern Region Planning Division, spoke about the statutory protection of afforestation lands and said that there was a revolution in 1995, when National Outline Plan (NOP) 22 determined that afforestation could constitute a land designation. The decision fixed the status of KKL -JNF as being in charge of afforestation in Israel and defined different types of forests.

Presentation on soil erosion and flood water harvesting by Shmuel Arbel. Photo: Yoav Devir“Twenty years later,” said Gold, “240 detailed plans have been made, and 62% of the forested areas have approved plans, 31% are in planning stages, and only 7% have not yet begun the process.” In 2008, a significant change was accepted for NOP 22, which allows for flexibility in forest designation change during the detailed planning and also enables construction in forests for the benefit of absorbing visitors and providing them with services.

There was a recent proposal for a new NOP, which could cause a reduction in forested areas and the cancelation of detailed plans that have been approved. KKL-JNF is conducting discussions at present with government personnel with the aim of reaching an agreed solution.

“The forested areas are continuing to develop, and we are trying to be responsive to the public while protecting the forests,” stressed Gold.

Second Session: Research Grants

The second session, chaired by Prof. Zvi Mendel included the award ceremony for grants from the René Karshon Foundation for graduate and doctoral students in the field of afforestation. Thirty-one grants have been awarded to date for a total of NIS 340,000.

Grant recipients Dr. Mally Dori Bachash and Nadine Santana Magal. Photo: Yisrael Malovani, KKL-JNF Photo ArchiveDr. Shaul Manor, Secretary of the Association of Trustees & Friends of Agricultural Research at the Volcani Center, said that the Association works to promote innovative research studies and award grants for young students and research scientists. Prof. Mendel spoke about Dr. René Karshon, who was one of the first foresters in Israel and passed away in 1999. Dr. Karshon contributed a great deal towards knowledge of forests in Israel and was known for his affinity for the Negev and his support for the afforestation of arid regions.

Grants were awarded to two research scientists this year, and they presented their studies in brief. Ms. Nadine Santana Magal spoke about developing a molecular barcode for the identification of tree boring insects at a premature stage. “We are trying to develop quick and simple methods for identifying the pests in order to enable more effectual treatment for afflicted trees,” said Magal. “When we know what kind of insect it is, we can select the appropriate treatment.”

The other grant recipient, Dr. Mally Dori Bachash, presented her research about classification and pathogenesis of fungus species that accompany the main bark beetles of the pine trees in Israel. Samples of beetles were gathered in six forests throughout Israel, and they have been tested for genetic differences and morphological characteristics. “This information could influence the consolidation of plans for interfacing and planting in order to reduce damage to the forest caused by the pests,” she explained.

Third Session: Water, Climate and Monitoring

New biofilter in Bat Yam. Photo: Yoav DevirThe third session was chaired by Dr. Jose Greenzweig. KKL-JNF Development Project Director Yossi Schreiber, who is a water and environmental engineer by profession, spoke about water reservoirs for the benefit of the agricultural sector and said that “KKL-JNF is leading a huge water project that contributes to agriculture and to the water economy of the State of Israel. We have constructed 230 reservoirs that supply 170 million cubic meters of reclaimed water to approximately half a million dunams (125 thousand acres) of agricultural land.”

Schreiber presented a variety of pictures of reservoirs that KKL-JNF has constructed from north to south and concluded by quoting a line he hears again and again from many farmers all over Israel: “If you were not here, we would not be here.”

Dr. Haim Messing, Director of the KKL-JNF Central Region, described a new approach being led in Israel by KKL-JNF -the development of water sensitive cities. "The goal is to harvest the floodwater that flows in the streets and pollutes the streams and the sea, treat it and then utilize it,” explained Messing.

Together with its friends in Australia and Mexico, KKL-JNF has constructed three biofilters in Kfar Saba, Ramla and Bat Yam. The floodwater is harvested, treated with special plants and restored to the groundwater. The facilities also serve as pretty, green urban areas.

Monitoring and tracking the dynamics of forests using remote sensors, by Dr. Michael Shprinzin. Photo: Yoav DevirDr. Michael Shprinzin from the KKL-JNF Forestry Department spoke about using remote sensors for monitoring and tracking the dynamics of forests in Israel. “Remote sensors help monitor various environmental systems. Our goal is to select the proper tool and provide answers to research questions,” he explained. “In working with plants, we must know which ones are surviving in the area, what their dimensions and characteristics are, and we try to track the changes and the growth. We are hoping to expand the monitoring indexes of plants to a national level.”

Monitoring instruments used for mapping terrain include aerial photographs from airplanes and skimmers, analyzing satellite imaging, constructing three-dimensional models, aerial sensors for temperature measurement and other technological tools.

Alongside tracking the development of vegetation in forests, KKL-JNF is advancing to the new field of mapping wildfires by means of remote sensors.

Monitoring forest regrowth after storms, by Yahel Porat. Photo: Yoav DevirMr. Aviram Zuk, a forester in the KKL-JNF Northern Region, and Mr. Yahel Porat from the KKL-JNF Forestry Department, spoke about treating damage caused by snow in Biriya Forest. Around 12,000 dunams (3,000 acres) of forest were damaged to different extents by the 2013 snowstorm. Many trees collapsed or broke, and treetops sustained irreparable damage.

Zuk said that in examining the different types of trees, it was found that Pinus halepensis, the Aleppo pine, was the main victim. Next was Pinus brutia, the Turkish pine, and cedars were almost completely unharmed. “The forest is rehabilitating and returning to itself, but you can still see areas of Aleppo pine that are sparser than they used to be,” he said.

“We know that events of this scale occur about once in twenty years, and our aim is to build a data base that can be useful for the next extreme event,” said Porat. Monitoring and control sections have been designated for checking the rehabilitation of the forest according to the types of trees, the soil and the different treatments that were applied. “It will be interesting to return to these sections in several years and see how they are developing,” said Porat.

Prof. Yossi Riov from the Faculty of Agriculture at the Hebrew University presented new directions in the study of forest tree improvement in view of afforestation challenges in Israel. Methods for improvement include gathering seeds from outstanding trees in terms of survival, selection of outstandingly hardy trees for vegetative reproduction or for establishing mother groves, controlled hybridization and genetic engineering. “These are ancient methods, but the means we use have advanced a lot in recent years,” said Riov.

Fourth Session: The World of Nature

The fourth session was chaired by Mr. Ami Uliel, Director of the KKL-JNF Southern Region. “We learn from scientists how to improve and continue contributing to the environment for the benefit of people and their environment,” said Uliel. Mr. Yaron Charka, KKL-JNF Chief Ornithologist, presented the action plan in the field of bird watching. “People ask me what the connection is between KKL-JNF and birds,” said Charka, “and the answer is that birds are an integral part of the ecosystem of the forest and its biodiversity. KKL-JNF is a partner in maintaining bird habitats in the forests, on the stream banks, in the parks and in the reservoirs.

Screen-shot from the Short-toed Snake Eagle live broadcast by KKL-JNF Wings. Photo: KKL-JNF“KKL-JNF has ben investing in many bird watching projects for years, above all the Hula Lake in northern Israel and the Eilat Bird Park. The plan is to develop bird parks all over Israel, at Lake Baruch, in Kibbutz Maagan Michael, in the Valley of Springs, at the Alexander River, in the Beersheba River Park, in Yeruham Park and in other places. A new birdwatching center is now being developed in Rosh Zippor Park on the banks of the Yarkon with support from Friends of JNF Australia. The Vickar Scenic Lookout has been completed next to the Mishmar Hasharon reservoir with support from friends of JNF Canada and it provides a panoramic observation point for viewing storks and other aquatic birds.

In conclusion, Charka presented a short video of a most famous nest of the short-toed snake eagle, which is located in the Judean foothills and is being broadcast live on the KKL-JNF website 24 hours a day. The mother eagle, Keren, the father eagle, Yisrael, and the chick, Oren, have become celebrities due to their publicity.
Mr. Moshe Schaller, Director of the KKL-JNF Community and Forest Division, spoke about the patterns of use and preferences of visitors in KKL-JNF forests. Over the last few years, KKL-JNF has conducted user surveys in seven main forests in different parts of Israel, from the north to the south.

Children walk along the Alexsandroni Path in Givat Koach Forest near Modiin. Photo: KKL-JNF“We were interested in knowing who was using the forests, where they were, how much time they were spending in the forest and what they were doing there,” said Schaller. It turned out that the main use of the forests was on Saturdays, Fridays and holidays. Between the hours of 10:00 and 14:00, the forest has high occupancy, and the average duration of time spent in the forest is around two and a half hours. Some of the research was done by attaching GPS devices to visitors, so that it would be possible to get an exact picture of exactly where they were.

The surveys indicated that most of the visitors in the forest are local residents. The main use is for picnics and social gatherings. In the community forests, the prominent use is walking and cycling. People say that what they enjoy most of all is the nature and the shade. They express satisfaction with the forest infrastructure but also express a wish for additional information stations and lavatories.

“If we know where and when the people are in the forest, we have a wonderful tool for concentrated efforts in development, information and maintenance precisely in those places and at those times,” said Schaller.

Dr. Eliashiv Drori picks wild grapes growing in Ein Misla near Gush Etzion. Photo: Yoav DevirDr. Eliashiv Drori, a scientist at the Shomron and Jordan Valley R&D, a molecular biologist and a vintner, present a remarkable study conducted jointly with KKL-JNF for gathering vine species that are unique to the land of Israel and identifying species that were used for making wine in ancient times. “Growing vines for making wine was suppressed due to religious reasons in times of Muslim rule in Israel, and many of the ancient species have become extinct,” said Dr. Drori. 

The researchers locate vines that have survived in the wild and conduct morphological and genetic testing on the seeds on the fruit. They also gather seeds that have been preserved in ancient winepresses and in archeological sites, classify them by laboratory testing and try to match the ancient species with the wild species.

Will they succeed in producing wine like the wine King David drank? Even if the scientists have a hard time proving it with certainty, they have already succeeded in finding local species that are very conducive for wine production. The wine will be marketed with a land of Israel roots story and not as a product based on species imported from Europe or America. 

Prof. Elisha Tel-Or on BPA detoxification via wetland vegetation. Photo: Yoav DevirProf. Elisha Tel-Or from the Faculty of Agriculture at the Hebrew University spoke about wetland vegetation as detoxifiers for the endocrine system. Bisphenol A (BPA) has been identified as a substance that harms the endocrine system, harms fertility and is especially harmful to babies. It is a common component of plastic materials, including those used in products for babies such as baby bottles.

As of today, there are no chemical or biological systems for the elimination of Bisphenol A. The scientists discovered that two plants growing in the Hod Hasharon wetlands, Juncus ucutus (sharp rush) and especially Cyperus corymbosus (piripiri), can assist in disassembling the harmful substance. The wetlands were developed by KKL-JNF with support from its friends in Australia, with the goal of assisting in the purification of the water in the Yarkon River. It is likely that this new research will find additional uses for these plants.
Taking home herb plants grown in Gilat Nursery. Photo: Yoav Devir“We are trying to learn the processes of Bisphenol A disintegration and investigate the products of the disintegration,” explained Prof. Tel-Or. “The initial findings indicate that the rhythm of disintegration is fast, and the resulting substances are much less toxic. The enzymatic system encourages the plants to disassemble the toxins faster [each time].”

Dr. David Brand summarized the fascinating conference, thanked all the partners and participants, and called for continuing the important research studies. Conference participants received a gift from KKL-JNF at the conclusion of the event - herbal plants from the KKL-JNF Gilat nursery.