The Universe Tonight
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New Management Process Seeks Balanced Future for Mauna Kea
By Stephanie Nagata, Interim Director, OMKM, UH Hilo
On December 5, the Visitor Information Station's "Universe Tonight" program will feature OMKM Interim Director Stephanie Nagata. Nagata, who joined OMKM as Associate Director when it was established over nine years ago, will highlight the people involved in the management of the mountain, explain why OMKM was established, and outline what the Office has accomplished since it was established in the summer of 2000, as well as the considerable challenges it faces in its effort to manage the mountain.
Unlike the observatory organizations that are usually represented in this "Universe Tonight" series, the Office of Mauna Kea Management (OMKM) does not own or operate a single telescope—not even a small one.
Rather than peering upward to the heavens, OMKM was created by the UH Board of Regents to oversee the University's management areas on Mauna Kea. The BOR's action came in response to growing unhappiness over the development and use of Mauna Kea, deemed sacred in Hawaiian culture.
In 2000, the BOR approved a Master Plan that established a new management structure involving community, including Native Hawaiians. Along with OMKM, the Master Plan created the Mauna Kea Management Board (MKMB), comprised of seven Hawaii Island residents representing key stakeholder groups, and Kahu Ku Mauna, a nine-member council made up of Hawaiian cultural resource persons from around the island of Hawai'i. The MKMB and Kahu Ku Mauna advise OMKM in the day-to-day management of, as well as policymaking for, Mauna Kea. All three entities come under the purview of the UH Hilo Chancellor.
One of the first actions initiated by OMKM, MKMB and Kahu Ku Mauna was the creation of the first full-time ranger program for Mauna Kea. Since it was established in 2001, the Mauna Kea ranger program has monitored activities on the remote summit regions, educated visitors, and served as "eyes and ears" protecting the mountain's resources from being damaged.
Needing to make informed management choices, OMKM has had to overcome a glaring lack of information about Mauna Kea. Several years ago, it initiated several studies to better understand the resources it is charged with protecting, such as the collection of valuable baseline data on the habitat and life cycle of the wekiu bug, which is found only on Mauna Kea. Another important study is the first comprehensive survey of cultural sites on the mountain.
OMKM has led the development of a cultural resources management plan and a natural resources management plan. These two plans served as the basis for developing a comprehensive management plan for the UH management areas on Mauna Kea. Together, these three documents provide OMKM with guidelines for protecting and preserving the resources.
If OMKM's mission is to engage the community in order to better manage Mauna Kea, why is it participating in a lecture series normally dedicated to astronomy? Well, in the bigger picture, astronomy activities on Mauna Kea are a part of OMKM's management mandate and are therefore affected by the outcome of these new management initiatives. Mauna Kea is part of the Public Land Trust, and the University of Hawai'i is responsible for protecting the mountain's resources for future generations. OMKM, MKMB and Kahu Ku Mauna agree that the future of Mauna Kea – including astronomy – lies in everyone's support of their collective mission to:
"Achieve harmony, balance and trust in the sustainable management and stewardship of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve through community involvement and programs that protect, preserve and enhance the natural, cultural and recreational resources of Mauna Kea, while providing a world-class center dedicated to education, research and astronomy."