Annual report on Mauna Kea to be released

The Office of Mauna Kea Management will deliver its annual report Friday to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

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The Office of Mauna Kea Management will deliver its annual report Friday to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

The 48-page document outlines ongoing efforts to protect natural and cultural resources on the mountain.

The office is responsible for managing the 11,288-acre Mauna Kea Science Reserve, and is under the University of Hawaii at Hilo. That area includes the 525-acre astronomy precinct, where 13 telescopes are located.

UH has faced scrutiny recently from Thirty Meter Telescope opponents and Gov. David Ige over its stewardship of the mountain, considered sacred by Native Hawaiians. Ige recently asked most of the science reserve to be placed under the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The document outlines dozens of ongoing programs and research that range from addressing invasive plants and insects to cultural outreach and education.

Examples include a study on erosion of the cinder cones, cultural training for employees, wekiu bug surveys, climate change modeling, a study on parking and pedestrian flow, and the capacity for commercial tours. A wekiu bug habitat restoration plan will be initiated as early as the fall, the report said.

According to the office, there are nine tour operators that use the mountain.

The office received authority to govern the tour operations from the state in 2009.

A follow-up audit of Mauna Kea management issued last August noted the office does not expect to adopt its own rules regarding commercial tours until 2017.

“Until UH adopts rules, it cannot enforce controls for managing public access nor implement certain actions called for in its management plans, thus hampering its ability to fulfill its responsibility to protect the mountain’s resources and ensure public health and safety on the mountain,” the audit said.

Managing access to the mountain is one of the issues UH says it will focus on following requests from Ige to improve stewardship.

The report mentions two ant species that have been identified near facilities on the slopes of Mauna Kea.

The office said the non-native insects have been found near Halepohaku and the Mauna Kea visitor center. The facilities are located near each other at about the 9,000-foot level.

The first ant species was found at Halepohaku in 2013 and identified as cardiocondyla kagutsuchi, which are native to Asia.

While the office says it is concerned about the introduction of predatory ants, it says in the report that these ants are “relatively benign.”

“It was discovered upon further investigation that this ant is also present along the Mana Road, in Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge, and in Department of Hawaiian Home Lands,” the report says. They are estimated to have been present in the area since 2007.

The other ant species, ochetellus glaber, also known as black house ants, was found this year in palm fronds TMT opponents used to build a hale across the Mauna Kea Access Road from the visitor center.

That location is managed by DLNR.

The report says DLNR placed bait, and both DLNR and the office conducted surveys.

The ants aren’t predatory, and the document didn’t state if they are of any particular concern.

Surveys for both species will continue, the office said.

The presence of non-native plants, such as fireweed, remains an issue on the mountain.

The report says volunteers have removed 1,080 bags of weeds since spring 2012.

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The report can be viewed by visiting http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/meetings/blnr-meetings-2015. Click on June 12 submittals and then agenda item K-3.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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