Israel's cities see tree preservation as low priority

Trees in Tel Aviv Photo: Shutterstock

Changes in the criteria for cutting down trees and pressure to utilize space do not bode well for preservation.

Municipal forums on Facebook and in the press have recently been taken up with rather intensive discussions about individual trees and woods that were cut down or are in danger of disappearing because of transport infrastructure development and urban renewal ventures.

The latest examples are Washingtonia and tamarisk trees in the area of Gan Hakovshim in Tel Aviv, the struggle over the venerable Ficus trees on Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa, the construction project that is threatening the old Ficus trees in Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv, the plan to build a residential neighborhood on the Lavan ridge near Jerusalem which will damage a forest, the "Little Hadassah" plan on the site of the park near Gan Hamiflatzot In Kiryat Yovel in Jerusalem, cutting down eucalyptus trees in Kiryat Ono in order to widen the road leading to the IDF absorption base, residents in Kfar Saba demonstrating against cutting down trees in the Usishkin Forest, etc.

The experts up in arms about the loss of shade remind us that the trees contribute to lowering the temperature in the urban space and lament the landscape and nostalgic value of the trees.

It was learned this week that the forest commissioner in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had decided to cut costs by changing the criteria and making it easier to cut down trees and to estimate the compensation that the developer will have to pay for cutting down trees.

Yifat Holzman-Gazit, professor at the College of Administration Haim Striks School of Law, is an expert in the protection of trees.

"Globes": What is a "protected tree"? Are there trees that it is forbidden to cut down?

Holzman-Gazit: "In Amendment 89 of the Planning and Building Law, passed in 2008, the Israeli legislator stated that the definition of a mature tree was linked to its size. It must be over 1.3 meters high and the diameter of its trunk must be over 10 centimeters. Any tree that meets this definition of a mature tree is a protected tree."

The criteria for preserving a tree

What does this protection include?

"In order to cut it down, a cutting license issued by a forest commissioner is required. The assumption is that the tree is protected and the custodian is a forest commissioner. A forest commissioner can be a municipal office of an employee of the Jewish National Fund.

"The real problem is that the forest commissioners do not always function as custodians. They tend to give licenses easily. It's also related to the fact that they let the cat guard the cream."

We've recently been seeing a lot of struggles against cutting down trees. What are the criteria taken into consideration by the forestry commissioner for cutting down trees?

"Section 15 of the Forestry Ordinance states that a license to cut down trees will be given after the forestry commissioner has examined the moral values and the tree's uniqueness. The point, of course, is that the meaning of these criteria is unclear."

In other words, one person's opinion determines the tree's fate.

"Obviously. You should know that there are cases in which the forestry commissioners are not even agronomists.

"All of the government ministries are being asked to reduce the regulatory burden. It was learned this week that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has chosen to focus on trees. The government forestry commissioner claimed that he did not feel comfortable with Section 15) (which included "uniqueness of the tree and "environmental contribution," G.N.), and he therefore wants to set objective criteria. He set four criteria: the tree's health, the type of tree, the tree's canopy, and its location. There is no mention of landscape and ecological value, or to the cultural value. The argument was that these matters are subjective.

"I think that this is a major error. On David Hamelech Boulevard in Tel Aviv, there are Margosa trees that will be given a low grade according to the new criteria, meaning that they can be cut down easily."

What is the meaning of compensation in the context of cutting down trees?

"The legislator stated that when a license to cut down a mature tree is given, a replacement value has to be set. What is a replacement value? How much the tree was worth. This money was to have been used to plant new trees. In determining replacement value according to the existing paradigm, it's according to the tree the was cut down. In other words, if it's a tree with a high value, a lot of money must be given, and vice versa. This means that the value is like compensation for what was taken."

What's wrong with that?

"The tree itself is not worth a lot of money. More money is needed to create conditions for growth of an important tree. In my opinion, the replacement value shouldn't be derived from what has been approved for cutting down. The idea should be how much it costs to create a tree nursery that will make it possible to plant significant trees. We live today in a country in which everything is being covered by concrete.

"In the Little Hadassah project in Jerusalem (a 20-dunam - five-acre - site used as a park in which a plan for building four 18-storey towers has been approved, including affordable rental apartments), a license has been given to cut down 56 tree. It was a garden until yesterday, and now there will be towers here. Chief Forestry Commissioner Dr. Erez Barkae set the replacement at NIS 127,000. The question is whether the new trees to be planted in this densely inhabited project will be able to grow. They will be small trees or bushes.

I think that the way of thinking has to be changed. There should be an urban forest levy. Every developer building in a city who wants to cut down trees and obtains permission to do so from a forestry commissioner should be required to pay for creating nurseries that will enable the new trees to develop. Putting a hole in an area full of concrete won't allow growth of a significant tree. There are techniques today that make it possible to plant trees in densely population areas."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 27, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Trees in Tel Aviv Photo: Shutterstock
Trees in Tel Aviv Photo: Shutterstock
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