How KKL-JNF Plans To Save Israel’s Largest Planted Forest
Located on edge of the Negev Desert, Yatir Forest’s million trees are suffering from a lack of rainfall and harsh conditions
The future of Israel’s largest planted forest hangs in the balance as a lack of precipitation and harsh desert conditions have taken their toll.
Located on the edge of the Negev Desert in southern Israel, the Yatir Forest has a million planted trees spread out over nearly 8,000 acres of land.
Because it is surrounded by desert, Yatir is known as a green refuge and the forest that helped stop desertification in the area. But unlike other forests, due to the dry climate, the Yatir Forest does not naturally regenerate on its own and could degrade without rapid human intervention.
For these reasons, the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) has come up with a new plan to save Yatir, which will see foresters plant many new saplings in the coming years in order to ensure the forest’s survival.
“This is a semi-arid area where pines do not regenerate naturally due to a lack of precipitation,” Gil Siaki, director of the KKL-JNF’s afforestation division in the southern region, told The Media Line. “Our decision to maintain the character of a coniferous forest in the region will oblige us to plant saplings in the coming years.”
Rich in archaeological sites, the Yatir Forest was first planted in 1964 and consists mainly of coniferous trees.
Most of the forest area is in stable condition, Siaki said, but still require gradual replanting in order to maintain canopy cover.
KKL-JNF, which has planted over a quarter of a billion trees in Israel since the early 1900s, also is seeking to diversify the types of trees in the area and will test various methods of replanting.
“We don’t just plant a forest; we think of the uses, the people who live in the area and the ecological reasons,” Siaki noted.
According to Siaki, the biggest challenge brought about by climate change facing Israel at the moment is a lack of rainfall.
We don’t just plant a forest; we think of the uses, the people who live in the area and the ecological reasons
The semi-arid area of Yatir, for example, sees only 270 mm, or 10 inches, of rainfall each year. By contrast, Israel’s coastal plain receives an average annual rainfall of roughly 508 mm, or 20 inches.
In addition, precipitation is extremely scarce during the hot summer months and the rainy season appears to be arriving later and later each year.
Some at the KKL-JNF are nonetheless optimistic that the Yatir Forest will survive whatever nature throws at it.
“The Yatir forest is not in danger,” Moti Shriki, director of the group’s soil conservation unit in southern Israel, told The Media Line. “We don’t know what will happen in the future with droughts; it’s possible that there will be years of drought and it will be then that this forest will be tested, but for now we’re doing ok and the forest is surviving.”
The master plan for Yatir, which was developed over the past two years, is part of KKL-JNF’s broader, ongoing strategic planning for forest management.
We don’t know what will happen in the future with droughts; it’s possible that there will be years of drought and it will be then that this forest will be tested, but for now we’re doing ok and the forest is surviving.
The organization has been working on dryland afforestation and landscape restoration projects for decades.
To cope with the Negev Desert’s harsh conditions, the organization also has turned to liman irrigation systems. Limans are man-made structures that rely on small dams to collect floodwater in the desert. Not only do they help trees grow, they also control flooding and prevent soil erosion.
Itzhak Moshe, former deputy director of KKL-JNF’s southern region, helped build the first limans in Israel in the 1980s and has been studying their impact on the area ever since.
“These groves provide shade for people who are traveling along the roads in the Negev, for livestock, for wildlife,” Moshe said. “In areas where we’re harvesting run-off we have much more pasture.”
KKL-JNF spoke to The Media Line on the sidelines of the eighth edition of the Drylands, Deserts and Desertification conference, which was hosted by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Sde Boker.
Researchers from around the globe attended the event – the world’s largest of its kind – to explore new solutions, technologies and ideas to protect and restore fragile ecosystems from desertification.
Video production: Dario Sanchez