Message from President Lassner and Chancellor Straney: UH remains committed to positive stewardship of Maunakea

The University of Hawaiʻi remains committed to positive stewardship of Maunakea for all who treasure this precious resource and for generations to come.

This editorial by UH President David Lassner and UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney first ran in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on November 29, 2015.

David Lassner
David Lassner

Current controversies unfortunately overshadow the remarkable advances made in the stewardship of Maunakea. Critics often cite the 1998 State Auditor report on UH management. The university never disputed these findings, but viewed the report as a wakeup call to drive the creation of a completely new approach to stewardship.

The most recent follow-up by the State Auditor in 2014 observed: “We found that UH has developed several management plans that provide a comprehensive framework for managing and protecting Mauna Kea while balancing the competing interests of culture, conservation, scientific research, and recreation.”

Donald Straney
Donald Straney

This dramatic turnaround occurred with UH’s shift of stewardship responsibility to Hawaiʻi Island and the creation of the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) in 2000 under the UH Hilo Chancellor. With this commitment to community and island-based management, OMKM led the development of the much-needed Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) and its four subplans. These were created with significant community input and approved in 2009-2010 by the UH Board of Regents and State Board of Land and Natural Resources. The CMP provides overarching management guidelines for Maunakea including public access, cultural resources management, natural resources management and decommissioning of observatories as well as management of construction activities, education and outreach.

The Maunakea rangers program has been key to the turnaround. The rangers are on duty every day, interacting with some 300,000 visitors each year–cultural practitioners, local residents, tourists and observatory personnel. Rangers offer first response emergency care, health and safety warnings and answer questions regarding the cultural, scientific and natural resources of Maunakea.

With the support of the observatories, UH ensures safe public access for all by properly maintaining the road to the summit with twice weekly grading, snow plowing and issuing weather alerts.

Person with monitoring device near rock outcrop.
The monitoring of archaeological sites is conducted annually according to the guidelines in the archaeological monitoring and burial treatment plans. Pictured here: A multiple upright shrine (kūahu) in the Maunakea Science Reserve.

UH conducts the regular monitoring of over 250 cultural sites, including shrines, ahu and burials. The sites were identified in an extensive archeological inventory survey the university completed for the entire Maunakea Science Reserve and access road.

UH has a robust natural resources program for the mountain and oversees regular monitoring of the mountain’s plant life as identified in the botanical survey UH conducted. Regular surveys and control programs are also conducted for invasive species that threaten the environment. One success story is the wēkiu bug, found only on the Maunakea summit. The federal government recognized UH’s management plans and work to protect the wēkiu bug, which was removed as a candidate for federal protection in 2011.

Three observatories were publicly identified this year for decommissioning and will follow the stringent guidelines of the CMP that require review of telescope deconstruction, removal, site restoration, environmental due diligence and cultural considerations.

The 2014 State Auditor report did note one shortcoming in UH stewardship: the need to develop Administrative Rules to guide public access. UH accepts this responsibility and work is now underway, beginning with the public open houses conducted by OMKM this summer at multiple locations on Hawaiʻi Island. The drafting and approval processes are expected to be completed in 2017.

In addition, UH is committed to improving cultural education and is designing a new curriculum for visitors–local residents and tourists–and for those who work on the mountain. The establishment of a new research program about Maunakea is also underway.

Governor Ige has stated that, “The activities of Native Hawaiians, and of our scientists, to seek knowledge and to explore our relationship with our cosmos and its creation can and should co-exist on the mountain.”

The University of Hawaiʻi couldn’t agree more, and remains committed to positive stewardship of Maunakea for all who treasure this precious resource and for generations to come.