Burnt Israel forest faces long recovery: experts
This picture shows the partially burnt Carmel Forest near the artists'
village of Ein Hod near the northern city of Haifa on December 6, 2010
after the massive forest fire was finally brought under control, with
the assistance of equipment and personnel from more than 16 countries.
The blaze was the worst in Israel's 62-year history, consuming
thousands of acres of forest and killing 42 people in total. Photo
by Staff Writers
Haifa, Israel (AFP) Dec 7, 2010
Scorched and blackened areas of Israel's Mount Carmel forest, razed by
the flames of the country's worst-ever fire, will take decades to
return to their once-lush glory, experts say.
The blaze, which began on December 2 and raged for four days, consumed
at least 12,000 acres (4,800 hectares) of forest in an area sometimes
dubbed "little Switzerland," destroying an estimated five million trees.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a state-supported Zionist organisation
which manages much of Israel's land, has encouraged Israelis to join
efforts to replant the area during a tree festival in January.
JNF chairman Efi Stenzler said the day-long Jewish holiday of Tu
Bishvat -- the "New Year of the Trees" when people traditionally go
planting -- would be extended for a full week and dedicated to
"regreening" the Carmel.
But experts say most of the hard work regenerating the forest will
happen naturally, although it is likely to take decades.
"The process of forest rehabilitation, the initial forest
rehabilitation, is going to take five to 10 years," said Omri Bonneh,
chief forester for the Haifa region of the Jewish National Fund.
"But of course, most of the trees that were burnt were 50 to 100 years
old, and we will have to wait decades to see the forest we love once
Lea Wittenberg, a lecturer at Haifa University's geography and
environmental studies department, agreed.
"We think that it will be brought back to life, but in a different form
of vegetation structure and diversity," she told AFP.
"Nature is very strong and it regenerates very fast after fires, even
after severe fires," she added.
Dan Malkinson, an ecologist at Haifa University, said forest fires can
actually enrich the soil by depositing nutrients, "and accordingly the
revegetation process is accelerated following the fire."
Both researchers cautioned against human intervention, warning that the
forest would recover better if left to do so naturally.
"We strongly advise leaving the place for the coming year, without
entering the place, without doing anything," Wittenberg said.
But the JNF's Bonneh said human intervention could promote biodiversity
and protect new growth.
"Natural regeneration itself does not mean that there is no need for
intervention," he told AFP.
The extent of the damage will take several weeks to assess, and it was
unclear how the use of chemical fire retardants and large quantities of
briny seawater during the firefighting process would affect the forest.
"It is the first time I think in Israel that such an intensive aerial
fire suppression was conducted," Bonneh said. "But, under the
circumstances that we had, putting out the fire was the main target."
Some areas of the forest, which have been burnt multiple times in the
past 30 years, may never fully recover, Wittenberg said.
"We have always experienced that in places that have been burnt three
times for example, the percentage of the trees is much less than places
that have been burnt once or twice."
She is planning an extensive survey of the forest, but warned that the
damage done by the inferno could have immediate and serious
"We are quite concerned with possible soil erosion and flooding," she
said, ahead of rainstorms expected to arrive in Israel at the weekend.
Local media estimated the blaze caused at least two billion shekels
(400 million euros, 533 million dollars) in damage.
More than 17,000 people were evacuated as the blaze ripped through the
pine-covered hills south of Haifa, and the government is now holding
special sessions to decide how to compensate those whose houses were
damaged or destroyed.
After scathing domestic criticism over Israel's lack of preparedness
for the tragedy, the government has also pledged to buy its first
firefighting planes and form a new authority to supervise the response
to future blazes.