Israeli nature loses the equivalent of a medium-sized city to development every year

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Israel loses open space equivalent to an average-sized Israeli city each year, forest fires are increasing in frequency, intensity and size, and two-thirds of the country is exposed to light pollution to an extent that harms ecosystems and to biodiversity.

On the other hand, nature reserves extend on land and sea, and there is more vegetation cover in the rainier northern half of the country, thanks to conservation efforts.

These and other findings appear in the annual report, released Thursday, of HaMaarag (“The Web” in Hebrew), the national nature assessment program.

HaMaarag is a collaboration of the Steinhardt Museum of Nature at the Tel Aviv Museum, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Jewish National Fund KKL-JNF and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Between 2017 and 2020, an average of 30 square kilometers (11.5 square miles) of natural, forested and agricultural land was lost to development each year, according to the report.

It is roughly equivalent in size to Zichron Yaakov or Caesarea.

A mountain gazelle runs past a barbed wire fence near a populated area on a hill next to a forest in the outskirts of Jerusalem on January 12, 2021. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Rampant urbanization has led to increasing fragmentation of natural space, making it harder for wildlife to move through populated areas.

It also means that 83% of the country north of Beersheba is now located within one kilometer (0.6 mile) of the nearest road. (The desert south of Beersheba, as well as the Golan Heights in the far north of the country, are relatively sparsely populated).

In the upper half of Israel, where the climate is Mediterranean, about 500 square kilometers (193 square miles) – or 15% of natural and planted forest – have been burned at least once between the years 2015 to 2021, and about a quarter of the herbaceous maquis open. Most of the areas with high fire frequency were in or near army training areas, particularly in the Golan Heights, Lachish southwest of Jerusalem and a series of hills in Samaria in the West Bank.

Since there are no thunderstorms during the Israeli summer, forest fires are always caused by humans, either through negligence or design.

The report attributes the increase in fires to increased population density, which increases the risk of neglect, climate change and thicker vegetation cover resulting from better conservation.

Illustrative: Firefighters attempt to put out a fire at Moshav Givat Ye’arim outside Jerusalem, August 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Last summer, it was the turn of the hills of Jerusalem to suffer widespread fires.

Sprawling urban areas reflect the increase in population, and this has been accompanied by an increase in artificial light, the report says.

Artificial light during dark hours not only prevents us from seeing the stars. It can affect everything from insect movement, foraging, breeding and hunting, to the orientation of turtles heading out to sea and the ability of birds to avoid flying into buildings.

A green sea turtle hatchling heads out to sea at night. (BBC/Screenshot)

The report, which for the first time sets a threshold for light pollution harmful to nature, says the amount of artificial light has increased by 30% over the past decade.

North of Beer Sheva, 67% of the land is now exposed to light pollution to the point, according to the Maarag, that nature – ecosystems and biodiversity – suffers.

In Eilat, a tourist town on the southern tip of the country, coastal light pollution threatens the future of the world-famous coral reef, the report continues.

Glare even penetrates 30% of planted forests created by KKL-JNF and 16% of nature reserves north of Beersheba.

Residents of the central city of Netanya, many of whom are immigrants, sit on benches surrounding the city’s main square at night, September 26, 2008. (Lara Savage/Flash 90).

Along the densely populated Mediterranean coastal strip, some 78% of the land is exposed to heavy light pollution – a situation, according to the report, which has been exacerbated by the creation of two offshore gas platforms in recent years.

The report examines for the first time the expected effects of climate change on biodiversity, specifying that it is particularly felt at sea, where dozens of species of molluscs have been extinct for several decades, probably due to global warming. ‘sea water.

Israel is warming faster than the global average and is expected to become drier.

Due to warming, migrating birds are migrating earlier and stopping for shorter periods along the way to rest and feed, the report notes.

However, he warns that human actions can also hide the effects of climate change.

One example is the increase in vegetation cover in the Mediterranean area of ​​Israel, despite gradual warming, as grazing and tree felling have been reduced as part of conservation measures.

The good news is that the open spaces protected by nature reserves increased by 9.6% between the years 2021 and 2017, bringing the total area of ​​terrestrial nature reserves and national parks to 26%. About 4% of Israel’s sovereign maritime area is now also protected.

Globally, more than 15% of the earth’s surface and 7.4% of the oceans are protected, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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