Zafrir Rinat 18.05.2020

Military aims to shore up Lebanese border region, but activists fear damage to the area’s rare flora and fauna

The Israeli army is continuing to promote plans to build roads through nature reserves as part of its effort to shore up the Lebanese border region, much to the chagrin of environmentalists, and it has begun recently to evaluate a plan to pave a road through the Baram Forest Nature Reserve.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel objects to the plan and is calling on the army to consider alternatives. The military is still weighing whether to build a road in the Nahal Kziv Nature Reserve, also in the Upper Galilee.

For more than a year, the military has been advancing a comprehensive plan for the roads along the border. According to the organization, most of the plans the army has submitted involve widening or improving existing roads and thus don’t constitute an environmental problem. However, the army also has a few plans to pave roads through nature reserves, one of which is called the Tzivon Route, which would run through the Baram reserve, near the community of Tzivon.

The Baram reserve, which covers some 1,000 dunams (250 acres) and includes a section of the Israel Trail, has a forest of especially large oak trees and a natural grove that sustains a wide variety of plants and animals. The grove was apparently saved from being cut down because it is located on lands previously owned by the Maronite Church. The area has around 80 species of mushrooms unique to the Galilee, an endangered species of orchid known in Hebrew as sahlav metzuyar, which grows only in northern Israel and perhaps in south Lebanon, and is also home to a rare species of lizard.

According to the environmental group, paving a military road through the reserve would require the uprooting and replanting of hundreds of mature trees. It will also expose natural lands to vehicular traffic and will divide the protected area.

The Nahal Kziv Nature Reserve, February 8, 2020.

“Bitter experience shows that new roads have a dynamic of continuing development, such that in time a highway will be paved on this route,” the organization said in a position paper on the issue. “We are calling on army representatives to conduct a dialogue and to think together of alternatives, both on the Tzivon Route or any other route that has the potential to undermine nature and hikers.”

During the past year, the Israel Defense Forces also considered building a road in the nature reserve next to Kibbutz Hanita. In the end, the army decided to build a different road that affected only the edge of the reserve.

The IDF Spokesman said, “The issue of the road in the Baram Forest is part of the evaluation of a number of alternatives and no decision has yet been made on the matter.”