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U.S.-Israel Shared-Value Initiatives: Forestry & Geology Cooperation

Beginning in 1987, the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) have cooperated in firefighting and conservation efforts. The relationship was forged when Israel was suffering one of the worst fire seasons in its history. Terrorists were setting the country's precious forests ablaze, and Israel urgently needed to modernize its fire­fighting systems to cope with the widespread arson.

JNF officials contacted Lawrence Amicarella, director of the Forest Service's Fire and Aviation Department and, in December 1987, three top American forestry and fire experts traveled to Israel to assess the damage. The team recommended the implementation of an intricate system of fire stations throughout Israel's forests, backed up by a modern communications network and fire­fighting equipment suited to the terrain.

Based on USFS recommendations, JNF devised a wide­ranging plan that helped to stem the arson. It included a fleet of 15 fire engines capable of reaching remote forest areas and hilltops, 15 new 45­foot watchtowers equipped with modern fire­fighting tools, hundreds of kilometers of new forest access roads, and a state­of­the­art communications system to provide for rapid response during an emergency.

While in Israel, the USDA team members were impressed by JNF afforestation techniques. "They're growing trees where it's impossible!" stated Mr. Amicarella, surveying JNF's afforestation of the Negev Desert. "If there are four inches of rainwater, they save four inches," he said. "Nothing I have seen in other countries of the region equals what JNF is doing."

In 1990, the two agencies signed a master memorandum of agreement in which they agreed to "develop and share research information, conduct scientific exchanges and coordinate studies which will improve the management of the natural resources of both countries." Two years later another agreement was signed calling for an exchange of information on strategic planning processes.

The United States wants Israeli expertise in two areas in particular: water harvesting and soil reclamation. The latter is important to America because 25 percent of the country is arid land that is being lost to desertification. As the only country gaining land, Israel can make a contribution to the global amelioration of this problem. "If every country were doing what Israel is doing," said Dale Robertson, then chief of the Forest Service, "we would make significant progress to insure the survival of our environment." Robertson added that because of the similarity in climate and growing conditions of Israel and parts of the United States, it was possible to learn a great deal, "particularly in the field of land development and soil conservation in arid zones."

During exchange visits in Israel and the United States, JNF and Forest Service personnel have continued to learn and share their knowledge and experience. The Forest Service has helped to protect Israel's forests from arson and natural disasters, while JNF has shared with the Forest Service its expertise in arid land afforestation and water conservation.

Both agencies have contributed their expertise to the International Arid Lands Consortium (IALC), which they and five major U.S. universities founded in 1987. The IALC is an independent, nonprofit organization whose purpose is to conduct research and develop applications in arid and semi­arid land technologies, and to apply its research in the United States, Israel and other countries.

In 1985, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Israeli Earth Science Research Administration signed an agreement to establish a seismic research observatory in Israel; however, the USGS is no longer involved in the seismic station.

Today, Jordan, Israel, and the U.S. are working on a Middle East Regional Cooperation Program (MERC) project to measure gravity. MERC has also proposed a study on earthquake research with Israel and Jordan. This study is related to finding a better way to detect nuclear test bans.

Sources: Partners for Change; Jewish National Fund (JNF)