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Lawmakers push to find new management of Mauna Kea

University of Hawai‘i seeks to renew a master lease on Mauna Kea

By Sophia Compton

Mar 25, 2021


There’s a push to find new management for Mauna Kea as the University of Hawai‘i seeks to renew a master lease on the mountain’s summit that’s set to expire in 2033.

State House Speaker Scott Saiki believes that UH’s management of the mountain has fostered an oppositional relationship between the Native Hawaiians and the astronomy community.

Saiki has publicly called for a change in Mauna Kea’s stewardship, and House lawmakers are forming a working group to study what to do about the mountain’s management.

Saiki is seeking seven Native Hawaiian applicants for a 15-person group tasked with restructuring the management of the mountain. The membership includes seven members: one representative each from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the UH Board of Regents and the Mauna Kea Observatories. The deadline is Dec. 31 for the group to come forward with proposals for the next session.

A 2014 audit of the UH’s management of Mauna Kea found that UH had “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.”

UH remains committed to its stewardship of Mauna Kea, and recently launched a new, internal restructuring program in August 2020, which Executive Director Greg Chun said should benefit the environment, the observatories, and the administration. He said the new resources should allow people to do things differently when it comes to research management activities.

“It is clear that people who have concerns with the management of Mauna Kea, the primary driver is whether they support astronomy or not,” Chun said. “We have the greatest motivation to show we are doing a good job, and I am not sure what is gained if management is turned over to another entity.”

Travis Don Kailikea Paradea, UH Mānoa alumnus and Mauna Kea Summit Adventures Tour leader, said he understands both sides, but he believes the UH should not retain control of the mountain.

“As you say, the history of UH Hilo’s management of the mountain has at times been kind of deplorable,” Paradea said. “I mean the first thing I always like to cite is in 1970 when the second telescope was built on Mauna Kea they destroyed the original summit to build it.

Paradea said the summit is where you find alters and is of highly symbolic value.

“UH clearly didn’t really care about the Hawaiian community in 1970 and during their stewardship,” Paradea said. “ I mean since the 1960’s until now – they at times make it really clear they don’t care about what the community has to say.”

There are currently 13 working telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea. The installation of the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope has been delayed indefinitely, but this has not stopped many protesters, who vow to block its path should construction resume.

Sheridan Noelani has been fighting the installation of TMT since 2015. She was born and raised in Northern California but has Native Hawaiian ancestry. Protesting on behalf of indigenous lands, and Mauna Kea in particular, has been very important to her.

“For many of us, this is a lifelong commitment,” Noelani said.

Sophia Compton

Sophia Compton believes that journalism is crucial to maintaining an informed...

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