After fires burned more than 32,000 acres of Israeli forest and open land in late November, the Jewish National Fund promised to “Rebuild. Replant. Restore.” in a fundraising pitch to disapora Jews which raised $6 million.
But according to the Times of Israel, JNF won’t be planting many trees in the forest recovery. Ecologists agree that it’s best to let the forests regenerate on their own.
“From an ecological standpoint, these fires do not qualify as a disaster,” Ofri Gabay with the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, told the Times of Israel. “Nature can handle them on its own without any human intervention.”
The sales pitch was referencing the JNF’s role in early Zionist history planting forests. But according to Chanoch Zoref, a forest supervisor for Jewish National Fund, the JNF “doesn’t really plant trees anymore.” Over the past 10 years, the group has planted fewer than 12 acres of trees in the Jerusalem area.
The JNF said that the money it fundraised went to help purchase new fire trucks and to set up fire suppression systems in certain parks. The organization will also help to rehabilitate the forests through clearing damaged lands.
Forests have the best chance of regenerating if they are left alone after a fire. Even walking on the land can have an adverse impact on regrowth, said the Times of Israel.
“Forestry all over the world is understanding that maybe actively planting trees is not the best thing,” said Zoref. “Now we do a lot less. We’re not saying do nothing, it’s something in between.”
This article has been updated to include details on what the JNF will be doing with the money it fundraised during the fires.
Naomi Zeveloff is the Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.