Maunakea 2021 and beyond

The University of Hawaiʻi is privileged to be responsible for the stewardship of significant lands on Maunakea and for providing a thoughtful approach to astronomy research on the mauna.

Snow-capped Maunakea.
Snow-capped Maunakea. Photo by Andrew Hara.

This message from the Center for Maunakea Stewardship was shared with the UH community on February 24, 2021.

Commitment to Maunakea and Hawaiʻi

Maunakea is one the most revered places in Hawaiʻi because of its cultural, historic and environmental significance, as well as being the world’s premier site for astronomy. The University of Hawaiʻi is privileged to be responsible for the stewardship of significant lands on Maunakea and for providing a thoughtful approach to astronomy research on the mauna.

The purpose of the 65-year lease granted to UH by the State in 1968 was to operate the Maunakea Science Reserve as a scientific complex to establish astronomy in Hawaiʻi. UH was spectacularly successful at this, but a 1998 State audit critical of the university’s overall management of the mauna made it clear that the privilege of stewardship carries an even greater responsibility to mālama, to care for, Maunakea, a wahi pana or storied place.

UH stewardship of Maunakea

UH has made great strides since 1998. An Independent Evaluation Report commissioned by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and released in 2020 stated, “We heard many comments that the cultural and natural resources on the state conservation lands on Mauna Kea are some of the best managed and protected lands in the entire State.”

In 2017, the Hawaiʻi Historic Foundation presented UH with a Preservation Commendation Award, the foundation’s highest recognition of preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and interpretation of the state’s architectural, archaeological and cultural heritage.

In 2014, the State auditor conducted an extensive follow-up (PDF) to the 1998 audit and 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.” Subsequent reviews (PDF) by the State Auditor have shown continuous progress and improvement.

UH commitment to collaborative stewardship

The UH Board of Regents adopted a resolution in 2017 affirming UH’s commitment to the collaborative stewardship of Maunakea’s cultural, natural, educational and scientific resources in a manner that integrates traditional Indigenous knowledge and modern science. The resolution directs the university to work with the State, County of Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiian organizations and the community to achieve this aim. The university is actively working on new governance approaches to strengthen and broaden direct engagement with Native Hawaiian and other community stakeholders. UH stands open and ready to collaborate with all.

Openly developed and adopted management plans

A new era of stewardship began after the 1998 audit with a commitment to community and stakeholder engagement. The Maunakea Master Plan was openly developed and adopted in 2000 and officially shifted the stewardship responsibility to Hawaiʻi Island. The plan created the Office of Maunakea Management in Hilo and two community-based boards—the Mauna Kea Management Board and Kahu Kū Mauna, the Native Hawaiian advisory council that provides guidance and counsel on management matters and cultural stewardship.

The Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) was adopted in 2009 followed by four detailed sub-plans in 2010 for public access, cultural resources management, natural resources management and observatory decommissioning.

The CMP includes 103 management actions (MAs) for implementation by the university. The Hawaiʻi Board of Land and Natural Resources’ (BLNR) 2020 Independent Evaluation Report concluded that the university has implemented most of the CMP MAs, and in many cases, “effectively implemented them to achieve the desired outcomes of protecting the resources.” Areas for improvement noted by the report focused primarily on education and outreach efforts by the university. These efforts are detailed below and will continue to include outreach to the Native Hawaiian community, recreational users, commercial tour operators, the observatories and other interested persons.

Click here for the complete Maunakea Stewardship document.

From the Center for Maunakea Stewardship. In August 2020, the UH Board of Regents approved the restructuring of the internal management of all related UH programs creating the Center for Maunakea Stewardship. The center, a UH Hilo unit, combines the Office of Maunakea Management and Maunakea Support Services under the Executive Director for Maunakea Stewardship and formalizes the collaborative roles for the UH Institute for Astronomy and UH Hilo ʻImiloa Astronomy Center.

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