DLNR review of Maunakea management cites successes, failures

  • FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2015, file photo, observatories and telescopes sit atop Maunakea. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File)

An independent assessment of the University of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Comprehensive Management Plan found success in some areas and failure in others.

Released on New Year’s Eve, the seven-month review conducted for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources by Honolulu public relations firm Kui‘walu Consulting assessed UH’s Office of Maunakea Management’s success in carrying out the goals of the Comprehensive Management Plan, which was implemented in 2009.


“We’re still going through the report, but anything in that report, we will be taking seriously,” said Greg Chun, UH executive director of Maunakea Stewardship. “We’re working on our own updates to the Comprehensive Management Plan, so this report is relevant to us.”

The review sought public input on how well UH followed up on the four main goals of the management plan — understanding and protecting Maunakea’s resources, managing access and use of the mountain, managing the built environment on the mountain and operations management.

While the conclusion of the evaluation found that most respondents think the university has largely succeeded in certain aspects, it has failed in others, most notably those related to cultural outreach and education.

The evaluation conclusion found that respondents broadly think material for Maunakea staff and visitors lacked context for the land’s significance to Native Hawaiians, that OMKM has been slow in achieving other goals such as the decommissioning of summit telescopes and OMKM failed to adequately communicate with stakeholders and the community about what takes place on the mountain at any given time.

In particular, the report states that Native Hawaiians and cultural practitioners have stated they think the cultural value of Maunakea has continually gone unrecognized by UH, which they argue has been primarily concerned with developing its summit astronomy program.

Chun said such criticism of UH has been common for the past 20 years, and the university intends to improve in that area in its next revision of the Maunakea Master Plan, to be completed by late 2021, and the Comprehensive Management Plan, scheduled to be completed by 2022.

On the other hand, the report noted, “We heard many comments that the cultural and natural resources on the state conservation lands on Maunakea are some of the best managed and protected lands in the entire state. The area is clear of trash, the invasive species are being removed not only by OMKM but volunteer groups and the OMKM rangers to ensure public safety on Maunakea.”

However, Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a retired UH professor and a Native Hawaiian activist, said she disagreed with that assessment of UH, citing a series of state audits since 1998 that concluded that UH had done little to protect the mountain’s natural resources since the first summit telescope was constructed in 1968. Those audits were used as evidence in a lawsuit against the state and UH by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 1997, which is ongoing.

“Any private business that takes 30 years to comply with the government’s orders would have gone out of business long ago, so I don’t know why we’re giving UH credit,” said Wong-Wilson.

According to the review, most commenters think the mountain’s resources are better protected now than in 1998, but some are concerned that there is no independent review to determine the integrity of UH environmental reports.

The review also revealed that many Native Hawaiian respondents commented that there is an inherent conflict of interest for UH to be the lessee of state conservation lands and applicant for new telescope development, and even respondents from UH-Hilo thought it was “awkward” for UH to submit a conservation district use application for the Thirty Meter Telescope project.

“In fact, they felt their relationship with members of the Native Hawaiian community changed when they became the applicant for the TMT CDUA; they felt they were no longer viewed as being neutral land managers but telescope developers,” the report says.

While the report emphasized that the evaluation of the Comprehensive Management Plan is separate from the TMT project, it noted that respondents’ opinions toward TMT tends to correspond with whether they think the university is managing the mountain well.

The report also noted that many respondents presume the state Board of Land and Natural Resources will renew the state lease of the summit lands to UH, thinking it to be a “done deal,” as the TMT project would not have been approved if the board did not anticipate renewing the lease.

A statement from DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case suggested the evaluation will help determine the future of Maunakea governance, including the question of whether the lease will be renewed.


“The results show overall solid management by UH on the protection of the mountain’s natural and cultural resources, but lacking in the equally important work of relationship building and meaningful inclusion of many people who care deeply about the mauna,” Case said in a statement. “This work will certainly help DLNR and the Board of Land and Natural Resources better understand and oversee management of Maunakea.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.