In the late 1980s, Israel experienced one of its worst fire seasons ever. Devastating blazes ravaged the forested corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The U.S. Forest Service responded by sending a technical team to assess the damage and subsequently recommended future mitigation and management strategies. Thus, a cooperative exchange program between the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (JNF-KKL) and the U.S. Forest Service was born.
Earlier this fall, a team from the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, headed by Deputy Regional Forester Maribeth Gustafson, hosted a small group of guests from Israel. They included Minister of the Environment Amir Peretz; David Leffler, director general from the Ministry of Environmental Protection; Efi Stenzler, the JNF-KKL World Chairman; David Brand, the KKL Chief Forester, and four other staff members.
After a safety briefing about mountain driving and the effects of altitude, the delegation headed to the White River National Forest. The quick roundtrip from Denver to Breckenridge featured discussions about water usage, wilderness, ski industry partnerships and comparative discussions about U.S. and Israeli natural resource management. On the way back, the group stopped at the top of Loveland Pass and a point along the Continental Divide – the source for many of the major rivers and watersheds running east and west of the Rockies.
The Jewish National Fund and the Forest Service share many of the same values and challenges related to natural resource management. There are few partnerships between a governmental and non-governmental organization that are as good a match as the unique 25-year relationship between the Forest Service and Jewish National Fund.
“The Rocky Mountain Region was honored to host the Minister of the Environment of Israel and members of the Jewish National Fund,” said Gustafson. “The visit presented a unique opportunity to compare information on similar land management challenges, as well as discover points of collaboration. We eagerly look forward to future opportunities to grow and learn in our work alongside our partners at the JNF.”
Since 1987, the partnership has blossomed and expanded into a number of programs that have benefited both partners. The collaboration has led to the application of better land management practices on behalf of both agencies. Key areas of collaboration continue to focus on an exchange of technical information, professional education, conservation education and research.
As the sole forestry agent in Israel, the JNF planted 220 million trees during the 20th Century, making Israel the only country to end the century with more trees than when it began. After devoting a century to building forests and making the deserts of Israel bloom, JNF is working to protect the forests from 21st Century challenges such as fire, drought and erosion.
Every year, Forest Service foresters work closely with the JNF communities on the January Tu B'Shevat program - "A Day in the Forest."