Mauna Kea bills will preserve natural and cultural treasures


POSTED: Thursday, March 05, 2009

If enacted, two bills being considered in the current Hawaii legislative session — Senate Bill 502 and House Bill 1174 — will improve the protection of the cultural and natural resources of Mauna Kea. The proposed legislation allows the University of Hawaii to adopt administrative rules to regulate activities within the Mauna Kea lands it leases from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources. The legislation allows UH to enforce these rules and to establish a Mauna Kea lands management special fund.

The ability for UH to adopt administrative rules was first recommended by the state auditor's 1998 report on the university's management of Mauna Kea. That highly critical auditor's report spurred the university to develop and adopt the 2000 master plan. The master plan transferred management of the summit from the Manoa campus to the UH-Hilo campus and its chancellor. That plan established a new management body: the Office of Mauna Kea Management, reporting to the chancellor. OMKM's advisory board is the Mauna Kea Management Board, which in turn is advised on cultural issues by the Kahu Ku Mauna Council.

These advisory boards, made up of members of the community selected for their knowledge of Mauna Kea's management issues and sensitivity to Hawaiian culture, give the community significant input into the management of the lands UH leases on Mauna Kea.

Protection of Mauna Kea's archaeological, cultural and environmental resources has benefited greatly from the new management arrangement, and has included the creation of the Mauna Kea ranger corps by OMKM to monitor activities on the mountain and advise visitors regarding appropriate behavior with respect to Mauna Kea's unique cultural and environmental resources.

While the OMKM rangers have made a significant difference, they could be more effective if the oversight bodies could adopt administrative rules for behavior and give rangers the ability to enforce them. As it is, rangers can only advise visitors from entering archaeologically or environmentally sensitive areas, or to pick up their trash. In addition, the absence of rules and enforcement authority makes the rangers' efforts to ensure public health and safety on the mountain at extreme elevation and in dangerous weather all the more challenging.

A follow-up report by the state auditor in 2005 noted a number of improvements in UH's stewardship under the master plan. One thing that remained consistent with its 1998 report was the auditor's stance on granting rule-making authority to UH. In 2005, the auditor reiterated, “;We recommend the University of Hawaii obtain administrative rule-making authority, revise and update planning documents, and develop, implement and monitor a comprehensive management plan for natural, cultural and historic resources of the summit and Hale Pohaku area.”;

Today, the university is in the final stages of completing the Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) that will serve as the guiding framework for protecting and preserving the cultural and natural resources on Mauna Kea by managing the multiple uses and activities on the mountain. SB 502 and HB 1174 will allow UH to properly implement and enforce the management actions contained in the CMP.

Some testifiers have incorrectly claimed that the bills being considered would do other things that would be detrimental to Mauna Kea. For example, the legislation does not seek to transfer ceded lands out of the public land trust. In fact, the leased ceded lands remain in the public trust and subject to any future potential claims by Hawaiians or a federally recognized Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.

A few testifiers have said this legislation allows the university to limit public access.

On the contrary, the legislation and the CMP on which it is based propose to preserve and protect valued cultural, historical and natural resources, including traditional and customary practices as required under the Hawaii state Constitution. There is no provision in the bills or the CMP to charge fees to access Mauna Kea. And neither the bills nor the CMP advocate future telescope development.

Simply put, we are trying to implement the state auditor's recommendations and need this legislation to protect the mountain and its valuable and vulnerable resources. When combined with the other recommendations and management practices described in the CMP, this legislation will allow the community greater control in its effort to preserve Mauna Kea as a cultural and community treasure now and in the future.

We encourage the Legislature to take responsible and timely action.



Arthur Hoke is former chairman of the Mauna Kea Management Board, a member of Kahu Ku Mauna Council and past president of the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. Barry Taniguchi is chairman of the Mauna Kea Management Board.