Updated: Scant Media Interest As Israel’s Forests Burn

Aug. 3 update follows.

Aug. 1 — Tens of thousands of dunams in nature reserves and forests in northern Israel are literally going up in smoke, but few news stories have reported the magnitude of environmental damage. Occasional references to “brush fires” being ignited by Hezbollah’s falling rockets landing in “open areas” or “uninhabited countryside” hardly convey the grave impact on Israel’s forests and wildlife. The embattled Galilee is normally a verdant haven for vacationers and wildlife, including migratory birds.

One exception was CNN’s Anderson Cooper on July 31 who vividly reported fires raging near Kiryat Shemona. Against a scene of smoke and flame, he said:

They’re flying in low, dropping flame retardant from the fire that’s over there. So far two Katyushas have hit in the area around Kiryat Shmona today. This has been burning out of control. We’ve been watching for the last 30 minutes or so.

It’s tough for firefighters on the ground to actually battle the flames because there’s not a water source for them to use around here, so they’re primarily using these small planes.No matter how many passes the plane made, the flames continued to grow.

According to the Jewish National Fund, over half a million trees have been destroyed in hundreds of fires as have 15,000 dunams of nature reserves and 6,000 dunams of forest. Yehoshua Shkedi, chief scientist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, says that 30,000 dunams have been destroyed, adding the fires have caused serious damage if not yet of catastrophic proportions.

Shkedi is concerned about the fires’ impact on three separate areas: plant community structure, birds and big mammals, and smaller animals such as mollusks, invertebrates, insects and rodents. He said that while most bigger animals and birds have the ability to escape the fires, by running or flying away, smaller creatures are very vulnerable. He also worries about the biodiversity of native plant life. After fires, foreign species such as pine trees (planted in nearby JNF forests) tend to invade, taking over and driving out native species.

The majority of the damage is in the Biriya forest, where 2,500 dunams were lost in fires that burned for several days, and on Mount Meron, the JNF says. Additional damage was suffered in the Baram forest and the Kiryat Shemona area. In Meron, 1,200 dunams have been destroyed in the 50,000 dunam nature reserve, reports Shkedi. JNF estimates that the cost of the losses total in the millions of dollars.

Shkedi points out that the destruction of 5,000 dunams of pastures in the Golan Heights will mean that cows will now be permitted to graze on previously off-limits, protected land, thereby leading to yet more ecological damage. A July 26 article in Ma’ariv (in Hebrew) puts the total area of destroyed pasture land at 15,000 dunams.

“The general public thinks that when a rocket lands in open territory it’s as if nothing happened, but when a Katyusha rocket lands in open territory, another forest goes up in flames, and it hurts,” Michael Weinberger, JNF manager for the Galilee Area and Ramat Hagolan, was quoted in Ynet.news as saying: “We have been living in the Galilee for decades and the color green is part of our lives – today everything is black and it will take many years to bring the green back into sight.”

The JNF reports that residents of the north–Jews and Arabs–have been enthusiastically volunteering to join the firefighting crews. JNF volunteer Elias Nicola told Ma’ariv: “I am a resident of this country and there isn’t any difference here between Arabs and Jews. The difference here is to see black or to see green.”

Hezbollah’s unprovoked assault has caused  tragic losses to human life in Israel and Lebanon, and has also wrought destruction on  wildlife and forests.

 Aug. 3 Update: AP Reports on Ecological Damage 

One day after CAMERA’s Aug. 1 report on the lack of media coverage of the destruction of forests and wildlife in the north, the Associated Press reported on the topic.

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