Stewardship by UH to protect Maunakea for future generations
From UH News, April 15, 2015
Since 2000, Maunakea has been under stewardship of the Office of Maunakea Management whose mission is to protect the natural, cultural and scientific resources of the mountain through community-led management. The Office of Maunakea Management’s 2009 Comprehensive Management Plan, approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources, is the state’s overarching management plan for Maunakea.
The comprehensive management plan covers four major areas of responsibility, explained below:
The plan also contains actions governing the management of construction activities, activities and uses, and education and outreach.
A 1998 state auditor’s report voiced concerns about UH management on Maunakea, but a 2014 follow-up audit noted that UH and the Department of Land and Natural Resources “have made progress on implementing many of our major recommendations… thus demonstrating their commitment to protecting Mauna Kea and its summit area.” Download the auditor’s report.
Office of Maunakea Management mission statement
“Achieve harmony, balance and trust in the sustainable management and stewardship of the Maunakea Science Reserve through community involvement and programs that protect, preserve and enhance the natural, cultural and recreational resources of Maunakea while providing a world-class center dedicated to education, research and astronomy.”
Maunakea Rangers protect natural and cultural resources while providing for public safety on UH-managed lands.
The Office of Maunakea Management is responsible for providing safe access for everyone including local residents, cultural practitioners, observatory personnel and about 300,000 visitors each year.
The Maunakea Visitor and Information Station, seen from above, educates about 300,000 visitors each year.
Since 2001, Maunakea rangers monitor daily activity on the summit, watch for unsafe or inappropriate activities and respond to emergencies. Rangers are on duty 365 days a year interacting with visitors, offering health and safety warnings and answering questions regarding the cultural, scientific and natural resources of Maunakea.
The visitor information station, which is supported by observatories, provides information on the cultural significance and natural environment of Maunakea, as well as the cutting edge science conducted there. Free stargazing and other activities are also popular with the community and visitors, which is subsidized by the Maunakea Observatories Support Service.
The Maunakea Observatories Support Service maintains the summit access road which requires biweekly grading of the steep four-mile long gravel road that runs from the 9,200 foot elevation level to the summit. They are also responsible for keeping the road open by removing snow and ice and providing weather forecasts and road condition alerts, all of which are available to the public at no cost.
Cultural resources management
A multiple upright shrine (kūahu) is among the cultural sites being monitored in the Maunakea Science Reserve.
The Office of Maunakea Management completed an extensive archaeological inventory survey of the 11,288-acre Maunakea Science Reserve and the summit road corridor. The survey took four years to complete and identified more than 260 sites that contained about 1,000 features including shrines, ahu and burials. Six of the sites are located in the 525-acre Astronomy Precinct and none of these include burials. The precinct is the only area in the reserve where observatory development is permitted. Monitoring of the cultural sites is conducted annually.
The monitoring of archaeological sites is conducted annually according to the guidelines in the archaeological monitoring and burial treatment plans. Both plans underwent public review and were approved by the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Historic Preservation Division.
The plans were also reviewed by Kahu Kū Mauna, a community-based volunteer member council comprised of members from the Native Hawaiian community. The Kahu Kū Mauna advises the Office of Maunakea Management, Maunakea Management Board and the chancellor of UH Hilo on cultural matters relating to the Maunakea.
The Office of Maunakea Management also funded an oral history and archival study of the history of the mountain.
Natural resources management
Volunteers removing invasive weeds at Halepōhaku. Non-native weeds and grasses compete with native plants for resources, smother native seedlings and increase the risk of fire.
The protection and preservation of the extensive natural resources found on UH’s managed lands on Maunakea, is guided by a natural resources management plan (PDF). The plan calls for the identification, study and monitoring of all natural resources.
The Hawaiian Alpine Wēkiu bug is a rare, endemic insect only found on the summit of Maunakea. The wēkiu bug is important to scientists because it is an indicator of natural resource degradation due to human disturbance.
The office is currently funding an erosion study of the summit region and the development of a climate change modeling program. The latter will help in developing programs for managing the sensitive summit ecosystem according to predicted changes in climate. Studies have been completed on the biology, habitat and food distribution of the Hawaiian Alpine Wēkiu bug, a unique species found only on Maunakea. In addition, research is about to commence on a habitat restoration. These studies and efforts resulted in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removing the wēkiu bug as a candidate from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Office of Maunakea Management has also completed a botanical survey of the road corridor, Halepōhaku and the summit. Annual surveys of the wēkiu bug continue along with surveys of native and alien species. Monthly and quarterly surveys are conducted in facilities at the 9,200 foot elevation and observatories, respectively, for the presence of invasive species, in particular ants.
A volunteer program of the Office of Maunakea Management involves members of the Hawaiʻi Island community, including schools, community associations, businesses and the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. The program has been actively removing invasive weeds at Halepōhaku with the goal of restoring the area with native and endemic plants. One of the volunteer events involved planting the endemic Maunakea silversword.
Decommissioning of the observatories
The Office of Maunakea Management decommissioning plan provides a detailed process for the decommissioning of observatories and site restoration.
For new telescopes and observatories that renegotiate their current subleases, the plan requires each facility to guarantee that funding will be in place for the eventual decommissioning of the facility. The plan also states that there will be no new development of observatories on undisturbed land following the Thirty Meter Telescope and any new development can only take place on an existing site. The plan also describes the future of astronomy over the next 15 years and anticipates fewer telescopes in the future.
History of stewardship
The University of Hawaiʻi moved the stewardship of Maunakea from the UH Mānoa Institute for Astronomy to UH Hilo as part of the 2000 Maunakea Science Reserve Master Plan. The plan called for the establishment of the Office of Maunakea Management and the community-based Maunakea Management Board, whose members are nominated by the UH Hilo chancellor and appointed by the UH Board of Regents.
The Maunakea Management Board provides a sustained, direct voice for the community regarding UH-managed areas. Kahu Kū Mauna, was also established and advises the Maunakea Management Board, the Office of Maunakea Management and the UH Hilo chancellor on Hawaiian cultural matters relating to the mountain. In addition, an environment committee was formed to advise and provide expertise on environmental issues.