Following the worst fire disaster in Israel’s history that took 43 lives and destroyed five million trees, Prof. Ido Izhaki, head of the Carmel Research Center at Israel’s University of Haifa says, “If steps are taken to plant new trees instead of thinning out the forest, a dense thicket of pines would eventually become another fire hazard.
“We have to let nature take its course,” he advises, noting that planting new trees on a large scale at this point would be a mistake. “The forest needs to be left alone to recover, with only minimal human intervention,” he says.
“The Mediterranean forest on the Carmel Mountains is naturally adapted to fires. There are plant species that have developed resilience to fire and those that have developed a dependency on fire,” says the professor, who has been researching the Carmel region since its last big fire in 1989.
Izhaki notes that when isolating the ecological and biological perspectives, fires also have a positive contribution to a forest’s growth. “Following the 1989 fire, we observed the development of flora and fauna in the region and saw that some fifteen to twenty years after the fire the forest reached a climax in terms of its fauna and vegetation diversity.
“This indicates that after about this amount of time following a fire, the forest will be home to more species of wildlife and vegetation than there were before the fire,” he explains.
Still he says, fires are only beneficial to biological diversity as long as frequency is moderate. Today, due to human factors, the frequency of fires is too high, and therefore the forest’s recovery is likely to take longer.
He adds that even in huge fires not all of the trees are completely destroyed. There are broad-leaved trees that are burned from the ground up, but the roots of trees such as the oak, arbutus and pistacia remain vital and will soon begin to sprout again.
He suggests surrounding populated areas with a sterile strip of land, to prevent a fire from encroaching, but stresses that overall, people should intervene to a minimum.