(Haaretz) — Tu Bishvat, the so-called Jewish Arbor Day, what better time to examine the preservation of nature in Israel and compare it to the situation in other countries?
To do this, we can turn to a new report issued by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which will be presented in Jerusalem next Monday at the organization’s sixth annual Conference on Nature and the Environment titled “Israeli Nature – In Which Direction?”
The report examines preparations to implement a national plan to preserve biological diversity, whose outline was unveiled by the Environmental Protection Ministry at a well-publicized media event four years ago. The paper compares Israel’s actual situation to the targets for preserving biological diversity set by international conventions and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Two months ago, the European Parliament formally enacted the European Union’s seventh Environment Action Programme as law. Among other things, this program requires European countries to work to halt the loss of biological diversity by 2020.
Preserving biological diversity means protecting every species of flora and fauna as well as the ecosystems that maintain them. In Israel, however, all indicators show a decline in biological diversity, including in the four years since the outline of the national plan was unveiled. About one-third of plant species unique to Israel, some two-thirds of all mammalian species and about a third of reptile species are in danger of extinction.
Roughly one-fifth of Israel’s lands are defined as nature reserves. But the vast majority of these are in the Negev, and many of them are in army firing zones. Of lands in the Mediterranean region – i.e., north of the Negev – only 55 percent are protected reserves.
Moreover, only 17 percent of endangered plant species are protected by law, and about 40 percent of Israel’s ecosystems receive a lower level of protection than that recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. These include vanishing landscapes such as loess plains in the Negev, areas of natural undergrowth, expanses of red loam and coastal sands.
Israel also has 160 invasive species that drive out the local vegetation.
The Environmental Protection Ministry published a detailed booklet that explains the importance of the national plan to preserve biological diversity. But no operative plan has been developed for implementing it; no funding has been allocated; no clear goals have yet been set; and nothing has been done to promote cooperation with other ministries on the issue.