Jerusalem's Deer Valley Gets Green Light to Become Nature Park

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Jerusalem's Deer Valley Gets Green Light to Become Nature Park

From Jerusalem Post
November 2009

After 10 long years, it seems the deer will finally have their day.

In a move widely celebrated by residents of the capital, the Jerusalem Municipality's District Planning Committee made a final decision on Wednesday in the case of "Deer Valley" - a 250-dunam plot of land sandwiched in among the Katamonim, Givat Mordechai, Rasco and Nayot neighborhoods. The site had been threatened by local real estate developers, but will now be allocated as an official nature park under the auspices of the municipality.

The valley, which has long been a pristine bubble of wilderness in the heart of the city - and as such, a beloved getaway for many Jerusalemites - is also home to a group of mountain gazelles, whose habitat was also at stake as developers eyed the land as a prime location for new apartment buildings.

When news of those plans surfaced in 2001, local residents took action and started collecting signatures on a petition in an effort to defend their slice of wildlife inside the city limits.

The effort grew quickly and soon became the Action Committee to Save Deer Valley, which was victorious in 2003 when the municipality decided to halt all plans for commercial development of the area.

Since then, however, the land has sat idle and the deer have begun dying off - mainly killed by feral dogs that enter the area unhindered.

And while the municipality's decision managed to stave off the developers, at least temporarily, members of the action committee knew that further progress would be needed to keep the area safe - from both apartment buildings and predatory wildlife - if Deer Valley was to remain in its natural state.

"When you live in the city, you don't have a lot of green space," Tal Regev, a veteran of the action committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, "which is why this place is important to us. You can walk down there and literally, within five minutes, you've forgotten that you're in the city... You can hear the birds chirping and the air is so crisp and clean. We all felt it would just be a shame to lose this place."

Regev and her cohorts began organizing meetings and workshops to figure out a plan for Deer Valley - an initiative that she said had drawn an eclectic group.

"So many different kinds of people enjoy the valley," Regev said. "You have your obvious nature-lovers, families with children, or dog owners, but there's also a number of religious people who enjoy the area as well. It's not uncommon to see hassidim doing hitbodedut [private meditation] out there among the grass and trees."

Thus, in an extraordinary showing of grassroots democracy, the different segments of of Jerusalem's population came together and worked out three separate options for the land, held a vote for the most popular one, and delivered their plan to city hall.

"The first option was to leave the area completely untouched," Regev said. "The second option was to build an 'intensive' park on the land, something like Gan Sacher, and the other option, which was decided on, was to leave at least half of it untouched and then build up trails and benches for people to use."

The committee first delivered the plan to the municipality in 2005, but years of back-and-forth over its details had stalled a decision on the matter until this week.

"Overall, it's been an immense amount of work," Regev said. "But we're obviously very excited that the plan was finally passed through."

Now that the municipality has passed the plan, she explained, it's only a matter of time before work on the ground begins and Deer Valley comes into its own.

Amir Balaban, an urban wildlife coordinator from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel who was also active in the committee's efforts, told the Post on Wednesday that the details of the plan also made allowances for the mountain gazelle's repopulation.

"There used to be many of the gazelles in the region," Balaban said. "Today there are a few thousand left in all of Israel and between 100 and 200 in the Jerusalem area."

The herd inside Deer Valley, Balaban explained, had included some 20 gazelles just over a year ago. However, due to the incursions of feral dogs, and other developments in the area, that number had dwindled to a mere three.

"But this plan is a step forward for their survival and repopulation," he said. "There are additional provisions in the plan to restore some of the streams in the valley and other natural preservation. But for the wildlife, and especially the mountain gazelles, the municipality's decision is simply a new lease on life."