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Relations between the SPNI and the NRA remained complicated. Even after the wildflower success, the earlier organizational divorce left a bitter aftertaste. Yoffe thought that the SPNI pushed its nose into areas where it had no business. There was also a sense that its unrelenting criticism was tainted with self-interested motives.

On the human level, however, there were close ties. Most of the NRA's professional staff had once been affiliated with the SPNI. Such relation-ships could lead to awkward situations at times. In fact, the values of staff members were practically identical. Disagreements were primarily over tactics and arose from institutional constraints.

When the two entities managed to work together, nature was the benefici-ary. For instance, while the SPNI conducted rallies to stop the proposed power station along the Taninim Stream Reserve in the 1970s, Uzi Paz was lobbying the Knesset on behalf of the NRA. Politically it was a difficult case, because the Hadera mayor, Dov Barizilai, was a right-wing Heirut party (later Likud) member, outside the traditional realm of the nature community's influence. However, Heirut chairman Menahem Begin agreed with Paz that national in-terests should trump local ones, and he overruled his party member.[132]

But just as often the NRA and SPNI fought like cats and dogs. No issues were more divisive over the course of the two organizations' long relation-ship than the access to and development of nature reserves. These involve classic dilemmas with which wildlife managers wrestle around the world; the questions are about ethics as much as they are about management.


Reserves are set aside for a variety of purposes. Some are declared be-cause of the existence of a rare species, others for their scenic value. Still others are declared because they are representative of various stages in ecological development. And, of course, there are critical habitats. The functional diversity of the reserves requires flexible management. Officially, the NRA has established three kinds of reserves:

  • Developed reserves, with basic infrastructure to accommodate the public (e.g., roads, trails, parking lots, and sometimes even picnic tables and rest rooms)

  • Open reserves, where development is limited to a few trails and the occasional sign

  • Closed reserves, which contain elements or processes too sensitive to allow visitor exposure

The issue of charging for entry into reserves has been controversial from the minute that debate began on the law. Some see admission fees as inherently undemocratic; others counter that the public will appreciate re-serves more if they pay for them.[133] Under Shapira's leadership, the NRA took the latter view. In November 1970, to cover “operating expenses,” the Ein Gedi and the Tel Dan reserves began to charge admission fees.[134] Others would follow.

The financial perspective of each group informs their institutional po-sition on the issue. The NRA, always short on funds, is expected to raise much of its own budget, and the entrance fees at the dozen or so “com-mercial” reserves generate significant revenues. Conversely, among its many functions, the SPNI serves as a de facto consumer advocate for Israel's hiking and nature-loving community. The organization is also in the tour-guiding business and absorbs some of the costs of the entrance fees. The issue of closing reserves is more complex. Although the SPNI un-derstands the need to let natural systems regenerate, it feels entitled to ac-cess, on educational grounds, and is quick to cry “elitism.”[135]

Far more heated than the debate over entrance fees is the question of the reserves' physical development. Even the seemingly benign marking of hiking trails to show walkers the way engenders criticism. Here, it is the Authority who can cry “elitism.” Proponents argue that the trails increase safety and allow the hiker to focus on nature rather than on not getting lost. It is also a question of preservation: Trails minimize human interfer-ence with natural processes. The NRA approach holds that people are guests in the reserves. Almost without exception they are not allowed to stay the night. Then there is the issue of handicapped access. Recently, the NRA constructed wheelchair trails in the Tel Dan and Huleh reserves for

mobility-impaired visitors.[136] Surely Israel's large elderly and handi-capped population deserve to visit a fair share of the country's reserves.[137]

The clear intent of the law is to develop national parks but leave re-serves untouched. But by statute the NRA was authorized to undertake development activities, setting up buildings and facilities and managing, arranging, and running them, along with services, for visitors and hik-ers.[138] From the outset, infrastructure accompanied the declaration of many reserves.[139] The streams of Dan and Banias, the oasis in Ein Gedi, and the waterfall at Tanur all enjoyed these improvements, some of which incensed the SPNI watchdogs.

Amidst all the huffing, little serious effort is made to consider the ac-tual motivation behind and validity of the Authority's development ac-tivity. The underlying impulse typically is not recreation (as is the case in initiatives in the national parks), but preservation. By managing the public, nature is better protected.

As NRA Director, Dan Perry was especially reviled by activists when these issues arose, because he was so completely unapologetic. Now retired, Perry has a senior statesman persona in the international conser-vation community, owing in part to his graying beard as well as his per-manent limp from an unfortunate meeting with a land mine in the field. He consults frequently, and he still represents the pragmatic end of the NRA spectrum. Perry claims that compromising to accommodate people has been the key to the Authority's success from the start. Increasingly the world recognizes that reserves need to integrate local populations into their long-term strategies, leading to the concept of biosphere reserva-tions.[140] Jordan's Dana reserve has intrigued visiting Israelis, but Perry claims that in practice, Israel has for years been making similar arrange-ments in administering reserves. In the case of the Ramon Crater, the NRA concluded that if they did not want jeeps and motorists to cut a thou-sand trails across the crater, they had better give the public a reasonable road to drive on.[141]

Over time, the NRA's pragmatic approach won over most “purists.” The Coral Beach in Eilat was one of the first reserves declared in Israel (November 26, 1964) and was also among the first that charged admission fees. After seeing that the five-hundred-meter-long beach was fenced in, NRA Director Shapira had a kiosk and shower facilities installed. As part of the development package, he even allowed an undersea observa-tory to be built at the reserve's southern tip. The biologists who worked for him in the Authority were initially furious but later had a change of heart when unprotected areas sustained massive damage.[142]


Even under the watchful eyes of the NRA staff, the reef in the reserve began to suffer, primarily because snorkelers were unintentionally tram-pling the sensitive corals on their way into the water. Although slow in responding, the NRA ultimately built concrete bridges to enable swim-mers to hop over the shallow, most vulnerable section of the reef. The management of the reserve also began to limit the number of visitors in the reserve at any given time, based on estimates of carrying capacity.[143]

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