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Firebreaks to Prevent Fires in Open Landscapes

Fires in open landscapes such as forests and woodlands, which occur in Israel nearly every year, are not natural. These fires are caused by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. Sometimes, fires in open landscapes spread from vegetation-rich areas (planted forests, nature reserves) and harm nearby communities; sometimes the fire moves in the opposite direction – from communities to natural or planted areas.

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In May 1980, a large fire broke out near Ramat Hanadiv, spreading from the chicken coops of Kibbutz Ma’ayan Zvi to the north of the park, and burned about 50% of the park’s current area.

Following this fire, the issue of open landscape management in general, and fire prevention in open landscapes in particular, gained the attention of Ramat Hanadiv’s Management. In the late 1980s cattle grazing was introduced to the park alongside thinning of the woody vegetation.

In parallel to the activities in the park, research studies were initiated to examine the effect of the fire on the ecosystem, and to develop tools for preventing the next fire, or at least minimising its damage.

The firebreak model offers an opportunity to prevent the spread of forest and woodland fire to communities, or from communities to the park, by breaking the horizontal and vertical continuity of the vegetation in the contact zones between the community and the open landscape. This is done by massive

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thinning of the woody vegetation and removal of the herbaceous vegetation mechanically or via heavy livestock grazing.

This model was implemented at Ramat Hanadiv following the recommendations of the Carmel Fire Committee (1989) and a firebreak was established gradually during the years 1991–1994. The woodland in Ramat Hanadiv, which borders the Neve Remez neighbourhood of Zikhron Ya’akov, was pruned and thinned, so that any tree falling due to fire would not hit any neighbouring tree or shrub and increase the risk of fire spreading to the tree canopies.

The firebreak is maintained using heavy cattle grazing, which aims to remove

the layer of dry herbaceous vegetation that can serve as the ‘wick’ for summer fires. As a result of this activity, the landscape acquires an appearance that resembles an open forest park, or as some say, a savannah.

The cattle herd grazes in a localised, controlled way in the firebreak, when the herbaceous vegetation is still largely green. In early summer the area remains clean of the flammable, herbaceous vegetation and then the goats come in to complete the work by eating park of the woody vegetation and suppressing tree and shrub regeneration. As a result, the risk of a fire spreading out of control and harming the settled area or spreading to the rest of the park is greatly reduced.

Since its establishment, many studies have been conducted in the firebreak, aiming to learn more about the regeneration rate of shrubs after wood cutting, and about the effect of management treatments on the composition and diversity of the plant, arthropod and breeding bird communities

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