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Table of Contents:


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Overview
The USDA Forest Service International Programs advances sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation worldwide. The USDA Forest Service works with partners in the Middle East on a broad range of technical assistance and cooperative programs funded by the USDA Forest Service, the US Agency for International Development, the US Department of State Middle East Regional Cooperative Program, and other international donors. Through training workshops, collaborative research, exchanges, technical assistance and demonstration projects, both the United States and our cooperating partners have opportunities to learn from each other. Partners include Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey.

Threats to the Resource Base
Although forest cover is not an obvious or dominant natural resource topic in the Middle East, the native forests and afforested areas that do exist in the Middle East are jeopardized by forest fires, health threats, slow rates of regeneration, and increasing loss of unique native species. Since water often dominates a discussion of natural resource threats in the Middle East, it is important to note that the interconnectedness of vegetation and water resources presents both opportunities (slowing the rate of desertification, creation of microclimates, water retention, erosion control) and challenges (afforested areas impacting groundwater availability, irrigation requirements) for natural resource managers. Additional challenges for the resource base of the Middle East include invasive species, wildlife eradication, and institutional weaknesses that impact resource management. Protected areas in the Middle East suffer similar threats to those in most places in the world, including recreation overuse, encroachment, and multiple - often competing - management objectives.

Why Does the USDA Forest Service Work in the Middle East?
The USDA Forest Service has been working in the Middle East for nearly two decades, both bilaterally on a country-to-country basis and multilaterally through regional initiatives. Topics of collaboration have included fire management and mitigation, watershed management, tree species improvement, wildlife management, and protected area management. As mentioned previously, this collaboration has taken the form of technical assistance, training, seminar participation, and scientific cooperation. Given the dynamic political environment of the region, regional cooperation and information sharing remain goal worthy, albeit challenging. Often, technical exchanges serve as a bridge and a means for communication when political realities preclude discussion in other venues.


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Regional Programs

A) Middle East Watershed Monitoring and Evaluation Project
The Middle East Watershed Monitoring and Evaluation Project, an environmental component of the Middle East peace process, has been underway since 1999. This project represents a collaborative research effort among partners in Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey and the United States. United States partners include the USDA Forest Service, the Department of State, US Agency for International Development, and Colorado State University. The goals of the Middle East Watershed Monitoring and Evaluation Project are to:

· Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of watershed management practices in preventing erosion and increasing the efficiency of water use in arid and semi-arid watershed pilot programs;

· Evaluate the biophysical measurements appropriate for evaluation of watershed management practices utilized for erosion control and biomass production in arid and semi-arid regions; and

· Demonstrate effective practices for forest and grassland management using pilot watershed programs

By participating in this unique program and by focusing on ecological resource issues such as the management of watersheds, the USDA Forest Service and its partners in the region hope to contribute to the development and improvement of the quality of life in the Middle East and to establish and foster strong working relationships that will last beyond the life of the project.


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Bilateral Cooperation

A) Israel
Israel experienced one of its worst fire seasons ever in 1987, when devastating blazes ravaged forests in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The USDA Forest Service responded by sending a technical team to conduct a damage assessment and to make recommendations for future mitigation and management strategies. Thus, a cooperative exchange program between the Jewish National Fund (JNF)/Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (KKL) and the USDA Forest Service was born. Soon after the first technical exchange mission, it was evident that both organizations shared many of the same resource management challenges. Over the last 18 years, the partnership between the Forest Service and the Jewish National Fund blossomed and expanded into a number of programs. The partnership has led to the application of better land management practices on behalf of both agencies. Key areas of collaboration have focused on the following:

  • Technical Exchanges -- Exchanges have taken place on issues ranging from fire management, watershed monitoring, soil stabilization, grazing and range management, geographical information systems, recreation planning, silviculture, urban forestry and tree improvement. Israeli professionals have come to the US, and US professionals have visited Israel under this program.

  • Professional Education -- Several hundred individuals in both countries have shared ideas and solutions to forest and range land management problems through technical training and a spectrum of learning opportunities, from short courses on specific subjects to graduate level degrees in natural resource management.

  • Conservation Education and Outreach -- In the United States, the Jewish National Fund and the USDA Forest Service collaborate on education efforts; co-sponsor Tu B'ishvat (similar to Arbor Day) celebrations of life; and promote conservation education programs for school children in urban and suburban areas. Some of these programs have enabled students in both Israel and the United States to test water quality in streams, rivers, lakes and coastal areas. Students join participants worldwide in collecting and entering their data into the World Water Monitoring Day website. In the process, they learn about the importance of water, water quality, and its relationship to healthy forests.

  • Research -- A number of research initiatives have been generated by the partnership between the Jewish National Fund and the USDA Forest Service over the past 18 years. The results of these initiatives are often helpful to both agencies in improving their management techniques. Recent and active research programs in Israel are focused on tree improvement, wildlife habitat management, recreation management and water monitoring.


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B) Jordan

Protected Area Management -- The USDA Forest Service partners with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, a long established non-governmental organization that manages nature reserves while promoting socio-economic development within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In 2004 and 2005, three technical teams from the USDA Forest Service traveled to Jordan to provide assistance in developing a management plan in the Dibbeen Forest, one of the last unspoiled pine-oak habitats in the Near East. USDA Forest Service technical teams worked with Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature ecologists and managers in forest inventory techniques and in creating a recreation plan for public use. Additional teams are collaborating with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature on sustainable planning strategies for this unique area, with a focus on conservation activities that also promote socio-economic needs of local communities. The collaboration is focused on fostering community based economic initiatives in Dibbeen that include eco-tourism, nature-based crafts, grazing and non-timber forest products. Additionally, USDA Forest Service has sponsored Jordanian participation in the International Seminar on Protected Area Management.


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C) Lebanon
A technical assessment team sponsored by the USDA Forest Service traveled to Lebanon in February, 2005 to identify collaborative opportunities and partnerships to strengthen and promote agency objectives and programs. Team discussions and site visits focused on 1) assessing current capabilities in watershed, recreation/tourism, and forest management; 2) identifying local level actions that can improve management and ensure sustainability of Lebanon's water and forest resource base; and 3) evaluating where USFS expertise could strengthen in-country capacities. The technical assessment team included a research hydrologist, a specialist in recreation/tourism and forest management, and a USDA Forest Service staff member. As a result of this visit, USDA Forest Service will provide further technical assistance in protected area management and has entered into discussions with USAID/Lebanon on how to provide further support to USAID program implementers on the topics above. Additionally, USDA Forest Service has sponsored Lebanese participants to attend the International Seminar on Protected Area Management and the International Seminar on Forest Administration and Management.


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Partners

 
US Department of State
US Agency for International Development
Middle East Regional Cooperation Program
Jewish National Fund/ Keren Kayemeth Leisrael
Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (Jordan)
Badia Research and Development Program (Jordan)
Jordan Ministry of Environment
Hebron University (West Bank)
Mercy Corps (Lebanon)
AFDC Lebanon
Al Shouf Cedar Reserve (Lebanon)
Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forestry

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