Over 150 Participants in the International Conference
“Climate Change and Forest Fires in the Mediterranean Basin: Management & Risk Reduction” 

30 January 2012

Ministry for Environmental Protection, Government of Israel

Israel/GFMC — The Ministry of Environmental Protection, in cooperation with the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL) within a framework of the EU ERA-NET CIRCLE 2 for promoting research and cooperation on climate change adaptation held an international conference on Climate Change & Forest Fires in the Nir Etzion Hotel on Mount Carmel near Haifa. The conference took place 24 – 26th of January 2012.

The objectives of the conference were to share scientific knowledge, policy tools and practical experience for effective management for the prevention of forest fires and for ecological rehabilitation following fires under conditions of climate change.

Approximately 150 people participated in the conference including government ministries, local government, the Fire and Rescue Services, the Nature and Parks Authority, KKL-JNF, researchers from academia, the private sector and NGO’s.

This international conference also hosted lecturers and guests from Jordan, Kosovo, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Canada and the USA. Among our guests from abroad were Prof. Johann Georg Goldammer, director of the Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC – UN university); Prof. José Moreno from the university of Castilla de la Mancha, a member of the IPCC panel that received the Nobel prize with Al Gore, and also Prof. Jon E. Keeley, US Geological Survey and adjunct professor UCLA with other distinguished guests.

The first day involved sharing scientific knowledge and focused on the relation between climate change and forest fires; forest fire management; post fire ecological assessment & rehabilitation; and knowledge gaps and research needs.

Climate change affects temperature increases and heat waves which have an increasing impact on wildfires. The fire, its size and its intensity are correlated to weather conditions in the months and days prior to the fire’s ignition. The increasing risks and the 2010 Carmel Forest fire disaster were the main incentives to organize this conference. Interesting findings that came up during the lectures presented in the first day were:

  • In Europe, it was found that the massive emigration from rural areas to cities have left agricultural areas susceptible to forest growth and takeover, increasing the fire risk in many areas. The EU representative claimed that the number of fires and the burned area did not increase with time. However, the damages are more severe due to the proximity of forests to human settlements.
  • In California, the growth in population increases the man made fires and the proximity of the fires to settlements increases damages.
  • In Israel the vast majority of fires are man made.
  • Military activity is a major cause of fires around the world, and in Israel it was shown that they are amongst the costliest to extinguish. leading method to control and prevent fires is to reduce the amount of forest vegetation. One suggestion is to bring back herds of goats to forest areas. Natural rehabilitation of the forest, as opposed to planting trees, was raised as an issue to be further examined.
  • The Carmel fire started after 8 months of no rain and under extreme dry conditions. One of the main causes for the fire abating was a quick change in wind direction from east to west together with a rapid increase in humidity from 10 to 90 %
  • There are a number of monitoring and fire tracking systems in Europe whose high costs demand collaboration between many countries. Israel was invited to participate in a number of such programs.

The second day of the conference concentrated on the transition between science and policy and from policy to application and management. The Carmel rehabilitation status after the fire, decreasing rehabilitation costs, and forest management plans for reducing fire risks were among the main topics that were discussed.

  •  The Ministry of Environmental Protection presented the main results obtained by the committee that was selected by the Minister of Environmental Protection. The main results were:
    – Natural system rehabilitation based on natural processes.
    –  Reducing the dense pine forest component of the Carmel landscape
    –  Desired landscape – a variety of patches: open areas, groves, woods and mixed patches.
    –  Establishment of buffer zones between landscape units and around settlements
    –  Landscaping Development for the communities in areas that are prone to fire.
    –  Preserving the local pine tree population that is natural to the Carmel, which is genetically distinct.
  •  The importance of goat herding in the buffer zones and in the forest for maintaining the clearings was presented.
  • The heads of the two regional municipalities, Dalyat el Carmel and Usafia said they consider the forest an important resource. They added they would like to work with KKL and the NPA and that they would like for discussions and decisions regarding the Carmel forest management to be made together with the local population.
  • Ecosystem services coming from nature but needing to serve people were emphasized. Thus in every system the human factor should be considered by using social science tools and need to consider cultural preferences which other ecologic and economic tools cannot asses.
  • The role of the local population should also be understood including the benefits of the forests as green lungs, pollution filters, improvers of local climate and noise reducers and a general ad wide education program should be established among the local population.
  • The day ended with a session about technological tools, remote sensing, aerial photography and special analyses to assess fire risks and projections. Another interesting tool presented was a Canadian thermal camera which helps fire fighters track the fire front, hot spots and roots fires.

On the third day participants took a field tour to the Carmel Forest to assess the rehabilitation efforts, soil erosion and management successes and difficulties in the Carmel area. The tour concluded with an open discussion where the foreign visitors commented on the rehabilitation efforts, emphasizing the importance of a long-term strategic plan for forest management and mapping risky areas in the forest including soil erosion and areas required fuel brakes.

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