Opposition voices concern that JNF plans do not ensure conservation of the region’s unique natural desert landscape.
By Zafrir Rinat | Jan.09, 2013

A plan by the Jewish National Fund to plant forests in vast parts of the Arava is prompting concern over its effect on the southern region’s natural landscape. At the request of environmental organizations, the JNF has agreed to revisit the plan and consider reducing the area slated for forestation.

In recent years, JNF has expanded its activities in the south in both the Negev and Arava, planting trees and also carrying out drainage improvement. This activity has also sparked opposition by environmental groups, which expressed concern that the plans did not ensure conservation of the region’s unique natural desert landscape.

Recently the JNF submitted plans to the southern district planning and building committee designed to protect Arava acacia forests near Kibbutz Yahel and Moshav Hatzeva. The plans affect 225,000 dunams, or about 56,000 acres. They call for limited planting of trees and construction of parking lots, roads and observation points. The program also includes arrangements to maintain drainage in the area to protect the acacia trees.

“We don’t think the development work that the plans permit is appropriate for this area if they want to protect the character of the landscape and the ecology of the region,” said Shai Tachnai of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. SPNI’s position won support from Smadar Meir, an expert hired by the district planning commission.

The JNF, however, said its plan is designed to protect the area rather than develop it. “The Jewish National Fund has national responsibility,” the organization said, “unlike the other groups devoted just to a specific agenda that sometimes represents extreme positions. Our solid position is that nature should be made accessible to all of the country’s residents subject to one clear limitation, and that is that natural assets not be harmed. The lookouts and trails that are involved will be installed precisely in the same manner that they are carried out in a nature reserve.”

The plans, the JNF added, were developed after a survey of the acacia trees in the area was carried out, and following other surveys that included the participation of SPNI’s Open Land Institute.