By Eli Ashkenazi
2 July 09
The Israel Defense Forces canceled all training exercises on the upper reaches of Mount Hermon over the summer, to avoid harming the area's unique flora and fauna. This a critical period for many local species.
"This is a very significant step," said Aviad Blasky, an inspector for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. "The area above the 1,800-meter line - that is, the very top of the Hermon - is a unique area. In this area, spring is just now ending. Plants have stopped budding and are beginning to dry out and scatter their seed. This is also a critical period for the wildlife. The young reptiles, mammals and birds who have emerged into the world are now learning how to manage on their own."
Yoav Perlman of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel says that "the Hermon has a special and sensitive ecosystem, inhabited by unique species that are found nowhere else." An article by Dr. Ori Fragman-Sapir, chief scientist of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, listed more than 230 different kinds of plant life alone that are found on the Hermon, but not anywhere else in Israel.
Col. Yehuda Yehohnanov, commander of the Hermon Brigade, said the decision seemed natural to him. "We're a state that has an army, not vice versa," he said. Both the army and nature need the mountain, he explained, so they need to find a way to live together. Since he took over the brigade, Yehohnanov added, the area's "nature gurus" have infected him with their enthusiasm to such an extent that he now asks all the researchers who come to the area to brief him on their findings.
Because of the area's uniqueness, the Israel Parks and Nature Protection Authority conducted a study to determine when each species breeds and propagates. Based on this study, it defined mid-June to mid-July as the most critical period and so informed the army, at the latter's request.
The army does not conduct a lot of activity on Mount Hermon in any case. Nevertheless, a bullet can cause damage, and so can the very sound of the shots. "This is noise that definitely drives birds away from their nests," said Blasky. "The nests would be then be left with eggs that are no longer being incubated, or nestlings that would get dehydrated."
Another concern, he said, is that soldiers or vehicles would trample on or run over plants and animals. After the authority discussed its concerns with the army, the latter agreed to completely shut down training activity for one month. "This will be a month of complete quiet," Blasky said. "Even planes aren't flying here this month."
Nevertheless, there are some who say even the new arrangement falls short of what is needed.
"Had they consulted us, we would have said that it [the quiet season] needs to start earlier," Perlman said.