Nurturing the Foresters of the Future

Monday, June 02, 2014

"Those of us who have chosen the nature conservation route have not done so in order to earn big money in industry, but from a sense of satisfaction in doing the right thing."

Together with the Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot, KKL-JNF is nurturing Israel’s foresters of the future. At a ceremony held at the Faculty on May 29th, thirteen students were presented with Future Forester scholarships donated by Ronald Appleby of Toronto, Canada. The festive event was attended by researchers from the Hebrew University, Faculty students and representatives of KKL-JNF.

Future Forester scholarship recipients with David Brand (front, 2nd right).

Kobi Mor. Photos: Yoav Devir
Scholarships apart, KKL-JNF’s collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture includes research assistance, practical experience for students and the provision of forestry jobs for graduates. Events on scholarship award day included presentations of new research by academics, KKL-JNF professionals and scholarship recipients, all in fields related to forestry and the management of open spaces.

Agriculture Faculty in Rehovot. Photo: Yoav Devir

Professor Shmulik Wolf, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, declared the collaboration between the Faculty and KKL-JNF to be a wonderful example of how to connect students to the profession they will follow in the future. “This is also an opportunity to thank the Appleby family once again for the help they have extended to the students,” he said.

“What the Faculty is doing with the relationship between forestry, agriculture, tourism and the economy is tremendously important,” said Kobi Mor, Director of the KKL-JNF Land Development Authority. “Bringing in professionals with knowledge of the fields the Faculty deals with will contribute greatly to KKL-JNF.”

To date, KKL-JNF has planted a total of over 240 million trees and has developed hundreds of parks, recreation areas, scenic lookouts, footpaths and cycle trails, all of which attract the general public out into the woodlands. As one of the posters on display at the event proclaimed, “Forests don’t grow on trees. Someone has to plan them, plant them, tend them, put out their fires and look after them.”

Chief Forester David Brand, who is the Director of KKL-JNF’s Afforestation Division, reviewed the Foresters of the Future program and reminded those present that, apart from its involvement with the scholarships, KKL-JNF also employs twelve students in its various units each summer. “Both sides gain from this arrangement,” he said. “The students get a chance to observe the practical applications of what they have learned, while KKL-JNF benefits from the know-how of these knowledgeable youngsters who can help us improve our forest management skills and cope with the challenges of the future.”

Dan Elyakim recieves his scholarship from David Brand and Shmulik Wolf. Photo: Yoav Devir

One by one, the students walked up to the podium to receive their grants. Eight of them are studying for their Bachelor of Science degree, five others for their MSc. Each was also presented with a token gift – the book 'Everything Grows from Here' (MiKan HaKol Tzomeah), which describes the vegetation of Israel.

Dan Elyakim made a speech on behalf of the students in which he expressed their heartfelt thanks to the Appleby Scholarship Foundation.  He told his listeners: “We conduct research because we want to play a part in improving the relationship between humankind and nature. Our future, and that of the generations to come, depends on preserving a sustainable balance. Those of us who have chosen the nature conservation route have not done so in order to earn big money in industry, but from a sense of satisfaction in doing the right thing. Because of this, these scholarships are vital for us, as they allow us to focus on what is truly important.”

Apart from the formal presentation of the scholarships, the event also included lectures on some of the research projects underway at present in forestry and related issues.
Trees in dry conditions
Dr. José Grünzweig, Open Spaces and Nature Conservation Studies Coordinator at the Faculty of Agriculture, spoke on The Eco-Physiology of the Mediterranean Woodland Under the Threat of Climate Change. “Over the years we have witnessed a rise in temperature and a drop in precipitation,” he told his audience, and described the problem climate change presents for the Israeli common oak (Quercus calliprinos): “These oak trees react to dryness by shedding their leaves in order to reduce their evaporation surface. However, although reduction of leaf numbers in the canopy is significant, the leaves themselves continue to function normally, as if no dry conditions were present."

Dr. José Grünzweig and his presentation.

Photos: Yoav Devir

The findings of this research show that trees differ from one another in their ability to withstand drought and the mechanisms they use to adapt to it. Unlike the common oak, pine trees close their stomata in dry conditions and reduce leaf activity. The mock privet (Phillyrea latifolia), on the other hand, appears to be highly resistant to drought.
Mapping the forest 

Elon Kalb presents vegetation mapping. Photo: Yoav Devir

Six graduates of the Forester of the Future program have joined KKL-JNF as foresters. Among them is Elon Kalb, who spoke in his lecture about the use of mapping techniques in forest management, with the focus on two examples: Adullam Forest and the Ilanot Arboretum.
Of KKL-JNF’s vegetation mapping he said: “What we are actually doing is creating a graphic abstraction of the situation on the ground, using technology such as statistical software, laser measuring devices, aerial photography and satellite images to compute and process the data.”
At the Ilanot Arboretum the various species were plotted on a detailed interactive map linked to an Internet site that provides information about each species and signs beside the trees themselves. These activities are intended for the general public, in accordance with recognition of the site as a botanical garden.
“These advanced methods allow us to present the reality of the situation clearly by means of graphics, rather than making do with an endless data table that does not reflect what is actually happening on the ground,” said Kalb in conclusion.
Drought-resistant trees 
Three MSc students who were among the recipients of the Appleby Scholarship presented a review of the research in which they are engaged.
Hi-Li Bonfil spoke about locating varieties of Tabor oak that display resistance to dry conditions, so that they can be planted in Israeli forests. The Tabor oak is a local species that grows in a variety of soils. It is considered to thrive in warm conditions and is characterized by morphological differences in the structure of its leaves and the shape of its acorns. Its single thick trunk is resistant to fire.

Hi-Li Bonfil. Photo: Yoav Devir

Hi-Li's presentation about Tabor Oaks in dry conditions. Yoav Devir

In recent years, Tabor oaks have been drying up in many parts of Israel. Sometimes, however, alongside the dying trees, other oaks can be observed to be coping adequately with the dry conditions and continuing to survive. The goal of this research was to locate Tabor oaks of this kind and plant their acorns in order to produce future generations of drought-resistant trees.
Hi-Li Bonfil carries out physiological tests on the trees and measures water potential, gas exchanges, branch growth and height, noting also characteristics of trunk structure and performing genetic comparisons. She also experiments with the next generation of trees, which have been grown from the acorns collected, by withholding irrigation and monitoring the development of the various saplings. Once all the findings are in it will be possible to supply KKL-JNF with recommendations regarding the location of drought-resistant trees. 
The ozone threat

Yoav Rubin. Photo: Yoav Devir

Student Yoav Rubin, who presented his research on The Influence of Ozone on Plants in Semi-Arid Conditions, explained that, although the ozone layer of the atmosphere protects us from damaging solar rays, at near ground level, this same gas acts as a poison that is damaging to both flora and fauna.
“Different plants react to ozone in different ways,” he said. “Ozone enters the plant through its stomata, causing physiological damage that harms its function and growth rate. Damage to forests is liable to increase global warming.”
As a small, crowded, industrialized country with a hot dry climate, Israel possesses high concentrations of ozone in many places. This researcher has investigated the extent of ozone penetration into leaves and the damage caused to plant life in different parts of the country. Measurements were carried out in Birya Forest in Upper Galilee, HaSolelim Forest in Lower Galilee and Yatir Forest in the Negev, among other places.
Water conservation         
Shani Rohtin spoke about water equilibrium, foliage conductivity and water-use efficiency in forests in different areas along the Israeli climate gradient. “It’s interesting to examine how available water remains within the hydraulic system as a result of the difference between precipitation and evaporation levels. We want to investigate how this available water undergoes changes under differing environmental and climatic conditions,” she said.

Shani Rohtin. Photo: Yoav Devir

She explained that the term “foliage conductivity” refers to the plant’s ability to transfer mass between the liquid phase in the biosphere and the gas phase in the atmosphere. “Water-use efficiency” is the term for the ratio between the number of molecules absorbed and the number lost to evaporation.
This research is designed to build up a picture from a variety of different forests in order to show how climate and soil conditions, the species of tree and the density of the woodland all affect the hydrologic balance. “We’ll examine how afforestation in Israel affects the quantity of water available,” she said.
In order to gather the data, a mobile laboratory makes its way from one KKL-JNF forest to another in different parts of the country: Yatir Forest in the south, Eshtaol Forest in central Israel and the Solelim and Biriya forests of the north.  “They constitute a sort of small laboratory within the Land of Israel that will enable us to make comparisons between the different regions,” she explained. The researchers monitor radiation flows, temperatures, humidity and winds, and within the trees themselves water flows, stomata conductivity and photosynthesis are all measured.  
Once the research is complete, its findings will serve as a tool in forest planning and management, as it will enable planners and managers to forecast changes in projected water availability.

At the conclusion of the day’s events, all those present agreed that the fruitful exchange of views between academic researchers, experienced KKL-JNF field workers and new students with innovative ideas have a great deal to contribute to afforestation, open-space management and sustainable development in Israel.