Israeli Controversy Blossoms Over Protecting Gilboa Iris(Iris haynei) - Science

Dell Sherk
Fri, 27 May 2005 03:24:49 PDT
Michael Avishai used to order from the IBS Seed Exchange.


-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Lee Poulsen
Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2005 8:14 PM
To: PBS Society
Subject: [pbs] Israeli Controversy Blossoms Over Protecting Gilboa Iris(Iris
haynei) - Science

This article just showed up in this week's Science magazine. Does 
anyone grow Iris haynei? Is it difficult? How rare is it? Didn't 
Michael Avishai, the director of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens 
mentioned in the article, used to be on one of the bulb lists?

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena area, California, USDA Zone 9-10


SCIENCE VOL 308 27 MAY 2005 p. 1251


Israeli Controversy Blossoms Over Protecting Gilboa Iris

A proposed eco-friendly settlement on Mount Gilboa has enraged Israeli 
say it will trample on a beloved national icon

tourists clog the narrow road snaking up this
mountain to enjoy the spectacular blooming
of the purple Gilboa iris. But this year the
rare flower, a national icon unique to the
ridge, has also become a major bone of contention
between settlers of a proposed ecofriendly
town and Israeli scientists who call
the settlement "an ecological
crime." The fight is part of a
larger battle over preserving
open spaces in a country where
environmental concerns often
take a back seat to an Israeli
imperative to build on the
ancient land.

The new settlement, called
Michal, would sit atop the
Gilboa ridge in northeastern
Israel, just east of the West Bank.
Two years ago, Israel's Nature
and Parks Authority approved a
plan to build 120 housing units
on 0.15 square kilometers after
the regional government agreed
to set aside 63 sq. km., including
the eastern slope of the ridge, as
a permanent nature preserve.
"Nature gets a lot," said an
authority spokesperson. Settlers
say they want to implement
ambitious plans for energy-efficient
homes, recycling, and the use of native
plants. "We want to live with nature," says
software engineer Aviv Harary, a community
leader who notes that each iris in the
path of the new settlement will be transplanted
before construction begins.

But a coalition of Israeli scientists has
filed an off icial objection to the settlement,
arguing that any construction, however
benign, risks "total extinction" of the
iris. They hope to influence the deliberations
of Israel's national planning council,
the last in a series of bureaucratic hurdles
that must be cleared before construction
can begin. The scientists are joined by the
Society for Protection of Nature in Israel,
which uses the iris in its logo and says the
flower is one part of a distinctive blend of
desert, steppe, and Mediterranean conditions
on the mountain.

Encouraged to come to the area by a
regional government seeking new residents,
the settlers chose this site because they were
attracted by the region's beauty. They hope
that Michal-through its domestic use
of rainwater, buildings faced with recycled
materials, and south-facing structures-will
serve as a model for ecological living in Israel.

Despite the green engineering of its
buildings, opponents fear that the settlement
will damage the local ecology.
B e c a u s e
the Gilboa,
unlike most
irises, cannot
self-pollinate, the settlement will reduce
crucial genetic diversity by isolating clusters
of irises to the north and south, worries
plant ecologist Yuval Sapir of Indiana University,
Bloomington. In a letter leaked to
the Israeli paper Ha'aretz last year, Nature
and Parks Authority board science committee
chair Tamar Dayan attacked the plans,
saying that the light, pets, gardens, and utilities
from the settlement could affect an area
on the mountain 10 times larger than its
footprint of homes. For example, the
flower's pollinating insects might be forced
to compete with other insects introduced by
imported gardens and agriculture, says
Michael Avishai, scientific director of the
Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.

Michal planner Chaim Shenhar replies
that residents plan to protect the irises in
their midst and that the settlement's footprint
was even modified to avoid affecting
areas of higher density. He also says that
homeowners plan to cultivate local plants.

Scientists are also unhappy with the
arrangement to set aside land along the
slopes of the mountain. They note that few
irises grow in the protected areas. From an
ecological perspective, says Tel Aviv
University ecologist Yoram Yom-Tov,
"[t]he top of the Gilboa is more important
than the slopes." The leaked
Dayan document asserted that
the deal, approved by the authority's
politically appointed board,
was made "without scientif ic
or professional backing." In
response, the authority says it
followed its normal practice on

The proliferation of the irises
along the streets and lawns of the
nearby kibbutz Ma'ale Gilboa
shows that humans and flowers
can co-exist, says Dani Kamari,
deputy head of the Bet She'an
regional council, which welcomes
the new settlement as a
way to make existing education,
health care, and garbage services
more cost-efficient. "Some scientist
sitting in Tel Aviv doesn't
understand how people here
live," he adds. Kamari acknowledges
that the kibbutz, an Orthodox
community, and two other
nearby towns could use additional
residents. But he notes that
the Michal group prefers to live
in its own, secular town.

Opponents are asking prominent
lawmakers to pressure the
planning council, which is now
reviewing comments before making a final
decision. Likud legislator Omri Sharon,
son of the prime minister, has already signaled
his support. But in a country where
development is a national priority, opponents
of Michal fear the traffic on Mount
Gilboa will soon be getting worse-and
that the Gilboa iris will pay the price.


Flower power. Environmentalists want Israeli government to
pay more heed to the Gilboa iris.

Published by AAAS
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