Erdan eyes Forest Authority

Erdan eyes Forest Authority

22 December 2011

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Israel — Following devastating Carmel fire environmental protection minister asks state comptroller to subject Forest Authority to Environmental Protection Ministry

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has asked State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to recommend that Israel’s Forest Authority be subjected to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Erdan’s request, made on Tuesday, comes ahead of Lindenstrauss’ report on the Carmel fire of 2010 and the operational recommendation derived from the devastating blaze.

December’s fire, which raged for four days and nights, claimed 44 lives, forced the evacuation of nearly 17,000 people and consumed 8,650 acres of land and natural forest.

Erdan also demanded that government allocate the funds needed to rehabilitate the greenery and wildlife population in the area, which suffered a crushing blow.

Lindenstrauss’ draft report on the fire has already been called “extremely harsh.” Erdan said that the draft substantiated his opinion that “the administration of Israel’s forests in general and the Carmel Forest in particular, must undergo substantial changes.” He claims that the Environmental Protection Ministry is best equipped for the task at hand.

Israel’s Forest Authority is currently split between the Agriculture Ministry, which oversees forestation by proxy of a British Mandate-era law; and the Environmental Protection Ministry, which oversees forest and nature conservation.

“The decentralization of the Forest authority between two governmental bodies mandates double bureaucracy, which right now is preventing the creation of buffer zones between communities – these buffer zones proved crucial during the unfortunate events of the Carmel fire, and are vital for the prevention of loss of life, animals and property,” Erdan’s letter to Lindenstrauss read.

Too much red tape

Erdan further claims that affiliating the Forest Authority with the Agriculture Ministry is an error rooted in a historic misconception, under which the Agriculture Ministry was mean to oversee every aspect of nature. But this, the minister said, was decided in a time prior to the existence of the Environmental Protection Ministry.

“This reality has changed. Forests are no longer considered an agricultural field… They do, however, represent parts of an ecological system that includes a vast biological array.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry, he added, “Handles all government aspects of nature conservation and biological diversity, and oversees the Nature and National Parks Service, which manages the majority of forests in Israel.

“The historical and artificial separation between forestation and forest conservation should be made a thing of the past. It should be brought together under the authority of the Environmental Protection Ministry, which the governmental body best equipped to deal with it,” he said.

‘Puzzling demand’

Erdan also appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to expedite the delivery of the NIS 55 million ($14.6 million) allotted for the rehabilitation of greenery and wildlife in the Carmel. The funds are supposed to be funneled over a period of three years, but according to Erdan, his ministry has yet to receive any of the funds at this time.

“The funds are needed not only to rehabilitate the area, but to create a healthier forest with richer biological diversity – the kind that has inherent characteristics which could minimize the risk of future fires.”

The Agricultural Ministry said that “Minister Erdan’s letter to the state comptroller is puzzling. The Carmel fire proved unequivocally the need to differentiate between natural forest and planned forestation.

“The Agricultural Ministry is working with Office of the Chief Scientist has conducted various studies researching climate affects on the forest and the best way to manage it and moreover, the ministry is the only body that has an active and highly professional training unit, which instructs the Jewish National Fund and the Nature and National Parks Service on tree management.”

A statement by the Treasury said that “as part of the planned amendments to the Lands Administration Law, it was decided to form the Open Spaces Fund, which will finance – among other things – the rehabilitation of the Carmel Forest.

“Unfortunately, differences between the environmental protection and housing and construction ministers regarding the fund’s future directors has kept it from becoming operational at this time.”

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