The Arava region will get one of Israel’s largest nature reserves, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Central Arava Regional council agreed Monday.
The new park, called Ein Ofarim, is located near Moshav Idan, south of the Dead Sea basin, in the Arava and will cover an area of 28,000 dunams (6,919 acres).
The Arava is the long valley that stretches from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Eilat and between the Negev Plateau highlands and the border with Jordan. Although the area is mostly desert, it is far from being empty and desolate. The area is home to hundreds of plants and animals, including the oak, palm, gazelle, ibex, leopard, and vulture.
As part of the agreement with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Arava Regional Council will receive areas designated for agriculture in order to expand agricultural activity in the region. There are some 500 farms in the Arava, which produce 60 percent of all fresh vegetables exported from Israel and about 10 percent of the cut flower exports.
The new agricultural areas are located between Hatzeva and Ein Hatzeva (in the the central Arava valley).
“We are concerned about balancing between the allocation of land for development and agriculture, and the preservation of natural values,” said Eyal Blum, head of the Arava Regional council.
The new nature reserve will be designated for the conservation of the natural values of the desert – vegetation and fauna and to ensure the preservation of its landscapes. The park will contain walking and hiking trails as well as observation points and picnic areas.
“The decision of the Arava Regional Council is the last step in a long process of dialogue between the Regional Councils and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. This process is aimed to enable the development of settlement and agriculture in the Arava, alongside the protection of natural areas,” said Gilad Gabay, southern region director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Nearly 22 percent of Israel’s land area is nature reserves or national parks. The Nature and Parks Authority is responsible for 530 national parks and nature reserves. Over 150 nature reserves and 65 national parks established throughout the country under the authority’s supervision encompass some 400 square miles (nearly 1000 square kilometers).
About 20 reserves have been developed for public use with visitors’ centers, roads, and hiking trails, attracting over two million people every year. One of Israel’s important regions – Mount Carmel – was declared in 2012 a biosphere reserve within the framework of the Man and Biosphere Program of UNESCO.