In honor of Tu B’Shvat, first comprehensive forestry law proposed in Israel for a century

MK Alon Tal (Blue and White) chose, Monday, January 17th, 2022, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat (T’u B’Shvat), the traditional New Year of trees, to submit a new forestry law for Israel.  The law is an expanded version of a statute prepared some ten years ago, when Tal chaired the committee that oversees forestry for the Jewish National Fund international board. But the draft law was ultimately abandoned due to the political considerations of the JNF chair at the time.  The present, expanded version is submitted after several months of consultation with forestry experts at JNF and the Ministry of Agriculture, which is the formal government agency responsible for forestry in Israel.

Tal, a professor of environmental policy prior to his election to the Knesset, explains that most people are unaware that the present statute regulating tree planting and forestry in Israel is the 1926 “Forests Ordinance” from the British Mandate. The law remains very similar to a 1921 version, adopted soon after the British conquered Palestine from the Ottoman armies in World War I. Since that time, modifications and amendments of the Ordinance have been extremely modest.  Given the significance of Israel’s trees and forests to human health, recreation, ecological corridors, species preservation and climate change, Tal declares that it is high time that Israel adopts legislation which is appropriate for the national and global challenges of the 21st century.

“After 100 years – it is time to let the old British Ordinance — which served us well for a century — retire honorably to “assisted living” and enact a modern, effective, innovative statute.  Israel has significant pressing challenges which the new proposed law will be able to address. These include enhanced preservation of trees in the face of development, prevention of forest fires, democratization of the forestry planning process, professionalization of management decisions, increased public access to forests and empowerment of foresters to protect woodlands and enforce the law.

Upon entering the parliament six months ago, Tal set “hammering out a new forestry law” as one of his top three legislative priorities for his first year as a Knesset Member.  Since then he has been upgrading the proposed law and negotiating with the responsible agencies:

“Forests have always been a critical expression of the ecological makeover associated with the creation of the state of Israel. Aerial photographs from a century ago tell us that close to 97% of the original woodlands in the land of Israel had been destroyed over the years, by neglect and exploitation.  From the country’s inception, planting trees and restoring Israel’s highly degraded soils, was a national priority.  The results are one of Israel’s greatest ecological successes.  With the growing population pressures, the advent of climate change and species depletion — the importance of trees and their many “ecosystem services” including carbon sequestration, shading and provision of habitat is more critical than ever. We need a more effective normative framework for meeting these challenges”  

Among the laws many innovations is the establishment of a new 40% shading standard for cities, to be met over the next fifteen years in a response to the anticipated rise in temperatures.  The standard is based on policies established in several Australian cities. The law creates a new tree-planting fund based on surcharges levied on tree cutting to help municipalities meet this goal.  The law also creates a national Forest and Trees Council, comprised of professional representatives of government agencies, academia and environmental group to set forestry policy and oversee its implementation.

Tal will take advantage of the 45-day mandatory period, when proposed laws by individual Knesset Members must allow the public to respond to garner support for the new legislation among both government ministries and the general public.  “Every year we celebrate the New Year of trees on Tu B’shvat by planting” Tal explained. But this year, is a sabbatical “Shmita Year” which means that there won’t be any tree planting ceremonies in Israel.  It makes sense to take this opportunity to plant a new law — the best New Year’s present we can give the country’s forests and those that will yet be planted:  legislation that appreciates trees and gives them new levels of protection.”


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