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New OMKM board member lives commitment to Mauna Kea

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Date: Friday, October 1, 2004
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, 974-7642

For Immediate Release

Dr. Ron Terry OMKM board member

Ron Terry smiles when he explains how he first came to Hawai‘i nearly 30 years ago. A few years after graduating from high school in San Diego, he was already packed and anxious to leave on a great Mexican adventure with a friend when, at the last minute, his friend called to say he couldn’t make the trip. Before the disappointment could fully settle, another friend called to ask if he wanted to go to Hawai‘i. “I had already quit my job and sold my car in anticipation of leaving, so I went down and bought a ticket to Hawai‘i the next day,” he recalls.

“Back then, there were direct flights that landed in Hilo, so my first impression of Hawai‘i was Mauna Kea as we approached the Islands,” Terry explains. It was a fitting introduction, as the magnificent mountain soon became the focus of his personal and professional interests. “I first visited the summit in 1975, hiking up from Hale Pohaku,” he says. “The mist overtook us and the trail was hard to follow. My overwhelming impression was one of mystery…even spookiness.”

Terry enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and studied geography under Dr. Jim Juvik. “Mauna Kea was one of his obsessions and so it became for many of his geography students,” Terry explains. “We would ascend and descend the mountain making air temperature and humidity observations, evaluating different plant communities, and measuring vegetation abundance on different substrates at varying elevations.”

During this time, Terry remembers spending several nights alone on Mauna Kea in an old bread truck converted into a mobile meteorology lab. “I had my sweater, blanket and a thermos of coffee,” he says of his youthful experience. “No radio, no phone, no way to get down that I knew of other than walk. In between weather measurements, I stared at the sky and knew that I had the best job on the island!”

Terry completed his bachelor’s degree at UH Hilo and went on to earn his Ph.D. at Louisiana State University (LSU). He returned to UH Hilo in 1987, accepting a post as professor of geography. “I hardly recognized the bustling, expanded UH Hilo campus,” he recalls. “The same was true of Mauna Kea, which had sprouted new telescopes and had a vastly improved road.”

Terry’s professional work again involved Mauna Kea, where he researched invasive plants such as gorse and banana poka. He got involved in environmental causes and issues, including palila habitat, military use of the Saddle, and problems that many associated with the observatories. “It occurred to me that Mauna Kea is not just a peak, but a piko, a connecting center, for all our experiences of life on the island of Hawai‘i.”

Twelve years ago, Terry left full-time teaching to start private consulting in environment impact analysis. He remains an affiliate professor and enthusiastic supporter of UH Hilo, he adds.

“It’s a great honor and a huge responsibility to be named to this Board,” Terry says. “Having a Master Plan – and, especially, the Office of Mauna Kea Management – is definitely a step in the right direction. It’s important that control be held here locally, where UH Hilo can be more responsive to this island community, rather than from a distance.”

As he steps into his new role on the MKMB, Terry says he has already been contacted by environmentalists to look into wekiu bug studies being conducted on Mauna Kea. “It’s definitely something that I want to learn more about,” he says. “I look forward to sharing my experience with environmental impact analysis – particularly EISs and other permit documents – with the MKMB when it is needed.”

One might easily consider Terry’s place on the Board a fitting conclusion to a calling that began with an aborted trip to Mexico some 30 years ago.

Terry replaces Heather Cole, who served two terms as a representative of the Hawai‘i Island environmental community.

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