Visiting the Burnt Carmel Forest
Visiting the Burnt Carmel Forest Yoni Kempinski

The Ministry of Environmental Protection, in cooperation with the Jewish National Fund, held a three-day international conference last week on Climate Change and Forest Fires. The venue for the conference, symbolically, was on Mount Carmel where a raging forest fire last year caused the deaths of 44 people and devastated homes and institutions in the area as well as the trees.

Approximately 150 people participated in the conference, including government ministries, local government, the Fire and Rescue Services, the Nature and Parks Authority, KKL-JNF, researchers from academia, the private sector and NGO's.

The international conference also hosted lecturers and guests from Jordan, Kosovo, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Canada and the USA.

Interesting findings that came up during the lectures presented included the following:

In Europe, it was found that the massive emigration from rural areas to cities have left agricultural areas susceptible to forest growth and takeover, increasing the fire risk in many areas.

In California, the growth in population increases the man made fires and the proximity of the fires to places of settlement increases damages.

In Israel the vast majority of fires are caused by people.

Military activity is a major cause of fires around the world, and in Israel it was shown that they are among the costliest to extinguish. A leading method to control and prevent fires is to reduce the amount of forest vegetation. One suggestion is to bring back herds of goats to forest areas. Natural rehabilitation of the forest, as opposed to planting trees, was raised as an issue to be further examined.

The Carmel fire started after 8 months of no rain and under extreme dry conditions. One of the main causes for the fire's abating was a quick change in wind direction from east to west together with a rapid increase in humidity from 10 to 90%.

There are a number of monitoring and fire tracking systems in Europe whose high costs demand collaboration between many countries. Israel was invited to participate in a number of such programs.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection presented its own recommendations, including the creation of buffer zones around communities; preservation of the local pine tree population that is indigenous to the Carmel. The importance of goat herding in the buffer zones and in the forest for maintaining the clearings was presented.

Participants took a field tour to the Carmel Forest to assess the rehabilitation efforts, soil erosion and management successes and difficulties in the area. The tour concluded with an open discussion in which the foreign visitors commented on the rehabilitation efforts, emphasized the importance of a long-term strategic plan for forest management and mapped risky areas in the forest.