An Enduring Partnership: JNF/KKL and the U.S. Forest Service

Gail Kimbell, Regional Forester, Northern Region
Jewish National Fund, Board of Trustees Meeting
New York, NY
— April 27, 2009

President Chesley … Mr. Robinson … distinguished board members … it’s an honor to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

In 1987, Israel had one of its worst fire seasons ever recorded. The corridor of forest between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was ablaze, and the U.S. Forest Service sent a technical team to assess the damage and recommend mitigation and management strategies. A cooperative exchange program was born.

For 22 years now, our partnership has flourished. Five Forest Service Chiefs have visited Israel, including me. I had the pleasure of visiting just last year, and I saw some of the wonderful green spaces maintained by KKL. These forests and woodlands are truly a delight to behold, and they provide tremendous benefits to the Israeli people.

The Value of Forests—and Growing Forest Stressors

We know from experience how valuable forests can be. The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands, an area almost twice the size of California. These lands are distributed across 43 states and territories, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, from New England (where I grew up) to southern California.

The U.S. Forest Service also has 7 research stations and 81 experimental forests and rangelands. Through our special authorities in our State and Private Forestry programs, we also work with all 50 states and 6 territories to help private forest landowners manage their lands sustainably on an additional 430 million acres of forest land all across the United States.

Our motto is “caring for the land and serving people,” and our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. We focus on sustaining healthy forests and grasslands that can deliver ecosystem services that people largely take for granted. That includes clean air and water, forest and rangeland products, habitat for fish and wildlife, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

KKL plays a similar role in Israel, which is why our partnership has been so valuable to both of us. Forests in Israel and the United States face many of the same challenges. Particularly in this era of climate change, the effects of forest stressors are growing in both countries. Forest stressors include drought, wildland fire, insects, and diseases. These stressors are normal and play a natural role in healthy forests and woodlands, but climate change is making them uncharacteristically severe. We can learn from each other how to manage forests to address challenges associated with climate change, invasive species, water issues, and other factors.

A Growing Partnership

Since the great fires of 1987, the U.S. Forest Service and JNF/KKL have been working closely together in a number of ways:

  • Technical exchanges.  We have had a number of technical exchanges, including more than 15 Forest Service missions to Israel and more than 30 KKL visits to the United States. These exchanges have been valuable learning opportunities in areas ranging from wildland fire management, to silviculture, to recreation planning.
  • Professional education.  A second area of collaboration has been professional education. We’re fortunate in the United States to have outstanding graduate programs in natural resources at some of our universities, and 12 graduate students from Israel have attended these universities. At least 40 participants from KKL have also joined the Forest Service’s international seminars on forest management, watershed management, and protected-area management.
  • Conservation education.  The Forest Service has worked closely with JNF over the years to promote conservation education and public outreach. For example, we have cosponsored Tu Bishvat events both here in the United States and in Israel, and we have worked with JNF to help students in both countries collect water quality data and post it on the World Water Quality Monitoring website.
  • Research.  The Forest Service has also worked with JNF/KKL to launch more than 18 research initiatives over the last 22 years. For example, we have studied habitat needs and related ecotourism for birds like Eurasian cranes that migrate through the Hula Valley on their way to and from the Great Rift Valley in Africa. Through the Israeli Tree Improvement Fund, we are also evaluating tree species for afforestation in semiarid zones and developing better ways of propagating trees.

We have also worked together on the Middle East Regional Watershed Project. Streams and rivers cross borders and boundaries without regard to the politics. For abundant supplies of clean water, stakeholders are working together to monitor the health of the watersheds they share in the Middle East. The partners include Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, and the United States. This is a great example of Arab-Israeli cooperation to address shared environmental concerns. It is especially important in an era of climate change, which is already affecting water supplies in so many parts of the world, including here in the United States.

Common Challenges

I am confident that our partnership will endure—and that it will continue to grow. We have several opportunities for expanded collaboration:

  • For example, we might broaden our exchanges to include more forest health issues. Israel and the United States have common forest pests and common challenges associated with dry woodlands. Such challenges tend to be exacerbated by climate change, which inevitably affects us all. We have opportunities to monitor changes in forest conditions over time to see what’s working and what’s not and to discover the most effective management practices, particularly from the standpoint of water conservation.  
  • Israel and the United States both have transcontinental flyways for migratory birds. We can take further steps to strengthen the cooperation between Israel and its neighbors along the Great Rift Valley Flyway.
  • Israel and the United States both depend on critical water resources in arid regions, and we both have international and interregional experience in addressing cross-border and cross-boundary water issues. A rehabilitation plan for the Jordan River might be one area where we could work together in the future.

In closing, what began 22 years ago as a fire-related technical mission has grown into a robust international partnership with multiple dimensions. Today, the Forest Service’s relationship with JNF/KKL is one of our strongest international partnerships. Our partnership is based on our similar mission areas … on our common conservation goals … on the values we all share in caring for the land and serving people.

Thank you again for this opportunity to address the Board of Trustees. Perhaps there is time for discussion?