Message from Stephanie Nagata: Advancing the mission of the Office of Maunakea Management

Since its inception 16 years ago, the Office of Maunakea Management has a combined 13 field seasons of baseline survey work, 33 field seasons of monitoring, plus years invested in resource studies, program development and implementation.

By Stephanie Nagata, Executive Director of the Office of Maunakea Management.

Stones on Maunakea.
The Office of Maunakea Management annually monitors archaeological sites, wēkiu bug, native and alien arthropod species, as well as invasive species.
Stephanie Nagata and keiki exploring with telescope.
With keiki, exploring.

As 2016 comes to a close, I thought I would take this time to reflect on how the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) has advanced its mission since our formation in 2000. The priority at OMKM has, and continues to be the protection of Maunakea’s unique cultural, natural and scientific resources for generations to come. The successful management of the large, diverse and remote acreage on Maunakea under OMKM’s care is the result of a deliberate process involving the Hawaiʻi Island community.

Studies and data collection

At the time of our formation in 2000, one of OMKM’s first priorities was to identify the resources and establish baseline data to be used to assess the status of the resources over time. Surveys, each involving multiple years of field work, were put into action. We now have baseline data for archaeological sites, wēkiu bug, other native arthropods, botanical resources, climate, and weathering/erosion processes.

Following the establishment of baseline surveys, OMKM initiated annual surveys to monitor the status of the resources. OMKM annually monitors archaeological sites, wēkiu bug, native and alien arthropod species, as well as invasive species.

Hawaiian Alpine Wēkiu bug. Slender body, long legs and antennae.
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.

In addition, OMKM has funded numerous studies of the wēkiu bug including: a study of the bug’s life history; characterization and mapping of the bug’s habitat; habitat restoration; as well as how weather and terrain influences the distribution of the wēkiu bug’s food.

We are developing climate models that evaluate likely impacts on both the island and summit ecosystems and are participating in weather monitoring networks to better assess climate change.

We are also currently studying the effectiveness of our invasive species prevention methods.

And this year, a multi-year study to determine the presence of seabirds and bats and an inventory of forest birds in the upper elevations of Maunakea will begin.

Comprehensive Management Plan

To help guide us in the management of the protection of the resources is the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) based on OMKM’s natural resources and cultural resources management plans. Compendiums to these plans include a burial treatment and long term monitoring plans to assess the status of the archaeological sites and guide management of burials on the mountain. OMKM also has some of the most stringent invasive species prevention practices in the state, but these are critical to protect the mountain’s fragile and unique resources.

Decommissioning Plan

 Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Maunakea.
The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is a 10.4 meter diameter telescope housed in a compact dome at 4070 meter altitude near the summit of Maunakea. Photo credit CSO.

After 50 years of astronomy on Maunakea, there comes a time when a telescope needs to be dismantled. The process is not simply taking a wrecking ball to a facility, but the decommissioning of a telescope follows a methodical process described in a decommissioning plan that involves the community in the process, in particular the extent to which a site is to be restored. The first to go through this process is the Caltech Submillimeter telescope.

The Decommissioning Plan, like the CMP, natural and cultural resources plans are not collecting dust on a shelf, but are actively being used to guide OMKM in its management functions. The volunteers who serve on the Maunakea Management Board and Kahu Ku Mauna Council represent our resourceful and diverse island residents and work with the staff that manage the day-to-day activities on the mountain. This community guidance is at the heart of OMKM and the CMP.

Ranger Program

Group of Maunakea Rangers stand for photo at a monument.
Maunakea Rangers protect natural and cultural resources while providing for public safety on UH-managed lands.

Finally, the OMKM Maunakea Ranger Program, created in 2001 a year after OMKM was established, has grown from two to nine full-time, and two part-time rangers. The rangers are on duty year round assisting and educating visitors about the significance of Maunakea, how to enjoy their visit and how to do it safely. They provide first responder first aid, search and rescue efforts, traffic management, invasive species control and litter pick-up. They are truly the university’s ambassadors on Maunakea.

16 years of accomplishments

Collectively, OMKM has a combined 13 field seasons of baseline survey work, 33 field seasons of monitoring, plus years invested in resource studies, program development and implementation.

OMKM could not have accomplished its successes without the dedicated research of the University of Hawaiʻi and UH Hilo graduate students, faculty and post docs. To date OMKM’s funding has produced one PhD, seven master degree students, and funded several faculty members and post docs! OMKM also nurtured numerous undergraduate student interns, two of which are now pursing graduate degrees with one more planning to follow suit.

The result is Maunakea research and data that are invaluable for OMKM’s management efforts.

Whew! And this isn’t all that we’ve done, but when you look back, that’s a lot we did for a government agency in just 16 years!

Wishing happy holidays to each of you and your families,

Stephanie Nagata


Stephanie Nagata began working at the Office of Maunakea Management in 2001 as its associate director and served as interim director from 2008 to 2011 when she was appointed executive director by then-UH President MRC Greenwood. During Nagata’s tenure at OMKM, significant and critical progress has been made on a number of issues regarding the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, development and implementation of the Comprehensive Management Plan and its four subplans, and development and implementation of the Major Projects Review Process.


-via Office of Maunakea Management E-Newsletter.

Share this story