The number of incendiary kites and balloons being sent by Palestinians over the Gaza border and causing fires in Israel has fallen in recent weeks, enabling the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to begin assessing the ecological and financial damage to Israeli parks and nature reserves.
Authorities are also working on a plan to minimize the damage if the arson terrorism campaign resumes next summer.
The four-month arson terrorism campaign, part of the campaign of border violence orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, has resulted in appalling damage: Some 32,000 dunams (roughly 8,000 acres) of Israeli fields, parks and other lands have been reduced to ash.
The report found that 12,086 dunams (nearly 3,000 acres) of national parks and nature reserves, 9,873 dunams (2,440 acres) of JNF-owned land, 4,237 dunams (more than 1,000 acres) of agricultural fields and 6,085 dunams (1,500 acres) of open land have been burned. Since the arson terrorism began, 14 percent of all nature reserves in the region bordering the Gaza Strip have been lost to fire.
The worst-hit areas are the Be’eri Crater Nature Reserve, 78 percent of which has been burned, and the Kurkar Niram Nature Reserve, 77 percent of which has been burned. Fifty percent of the Karmiya Nature Reserve, 30 percent of the Reches Gvaram Reserve, 27 percent of Nahal Grar Park and 21 percent of the Besor Nature Reserve have also been lost to the fires.
The parks authority is concerned that invasive plant species could replace local plants and cause more damage. Workers are taking care to root out invasive species, and next spring, after the winter rains, the authorities plan to inspect the damaged areas for any changes to the plant life.
The fires have annihilated wildlife as well as flora. The bee-eater birds indigenous to the Besor Reserve are gone, their nests having been lost, and Be’eri’s wild turtle population has suffered a critical blow.
In addition to destroying animal habitats, Hamas also used animals to set the fires, releasing hawks into Israel to which operatives had attached burning fuses.
According to the INPA, the fires have caused some 15 million shekels ($4 million) in damage to nature reserves alone and the amount of territory lost will make it too difficult for the nature reserves to rehabilitate themselves, requiring human intervention.
“We are now seeing the scope of the damage caused to the nature reserves, and it’s immense,” said INPA Southern District director Gilad Gabbai. “Most of the Be’eri Reserve has been burned, and it almost doesn’t have the resources for renewal. It’s a really tough blow. We need to take more aggressive action that wasn’t needed in the past. We need to intervene, as opposed other places, where we’re protecting the ecosystem from outside and allowing it to recover naturally.”
Chief INPA scientist Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy said that the authority needs “a substantial budget” to handle the invasive species.
“This is very expensive work, in addition to the monitoring program, which could cost a million shekels [$279,000] a year. If I want a plan for five years, the monitoring alone will cost NIS 5 million [$1.4 million], and I’m not talking about all the other things,” he said.
“If there are fires next year, it will take dozens of years for the reserves and parks to recover. If there are 10 years before the next fire, then maybe we can fix the damage in a few years. It also depends on how you define rehabilitation, because it will never return to what it was.”