I Speak for the Trees: New Law Protects Trees from Developers in Israel

Israel is not the only place in the world where building and development come into constant conflict with flora and fauna, but a lack of respect for trees in this semi-arid country has long been a thorn in the side of environmentalists. One oft-heard complaint relates to the tendency of contractors to leave not a single tree or bush standing on new building sites in the wake of their tractors.

However, luckily enough for the Israeli tree, Israel's current legislature contains some very energetic green lawmakers, who have been awfully busy over the past few years making up for the indifference of their predecessors. One such Member of Knesset, Ophir Pines-Paz, recently got a law passed that will protect urban trees from the tractors of land developers and building contractors.

According to a new law (technically an amendment to the country's planning and construction law), from now on every building plan submitted to planning authorities must note the presence of mature trees within its boundaries. In order to get a plan approved, developers will be required to report the number and location of trees on a plot, and in some cases will even have to put down a deposit to ensure the trees' protection.

According to its sponsor, Member of Knesset Ophir Pines-Paz, the new law will greatly improve the urban environment, as well as the quality of life of its residents. In a press release announcing the passage of the law, Pines-Paz added that the law will "significantly decrease the amount of trees, protected species and unprotected, that are cut down or uprooted, and will ensure that, if they are, they will be transplanted or replaced with a new tree."

I Speak for the Trees, For the Trees Have no Tongues
Israel has a strong, but mixed, record on tree planting and preservation. On the one hand, the country's forestry methods are widely admired. Thanks to the work of the Jewish National Fund, which has planted some 240 million trees over the past hundred or so years, Israel is reportedly the only country in the world to finish the last century with more trees than it started out with. In urban areas, as well, very old trees and protected species are preserved, even when this presents developers with additional costs.

However, the list of preserved species is not very comprehensive, and most mature trees have been left, until now, with no one to speak in their defense. On construction sites and in urban development schemes, mature trees are uprooted with little concerns for the loss of the benefits that they provide.

In Tel Aviv, for example, a major urban thoroughfare, Ibn Gvirol Street, is being repaved. But while the new pavement and curbstones have contributed to the renewal of the urban space, the first to fall victim to the tractors during the renovation were, to the horror of many, several hundred mature street trees that provided the street with much-needed shade and helped to purify the air.

Fortunately, with the help of the new law, it will no longer be so easy to cut down mature trees in Israel. The new law is slated to go into effect in mid-2009.

Photos courtesy of Daniel Cherrin. Lorax image via www.democraticunderground.com.

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