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University of Hawaii denounces ski and snowboard incident on Mauna Kea

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The Office of Maunakea Management condemned a video posted to social media showing three individuals skiing and snowboarding down a revered volcanic cone on Mauna Kea that is managed by the University of Hawaii.

Pu‘u Poli‘ahu is the second-highest point on the mountain — Puʻu Wēkiu is the highest at 13,796 feet — and considered sacred to Native Hawaiians. In the video, the skiers and snowboarders appear to carve a pathway directly through bare dirt and rocks that are devoid of snow.

“First and foremost, this act was disrespectful to Native Hawaiians and to everyone who considers the mountain sacred,” said Stephanie Nagata, director of UH Hilo’s Office of Maunakea Management, in a news release. “One of the first acts by Kahu Ku Mauna in 2001 shortly after its creation was to stop vehicular access traffic on the Pu‘u because it is a sacred site.”

Kahu Ku Mauna is the volunteer Native Hawaiian council that advises the university on Hawaiian cultural matters concerning Mauna Kea.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees, the Hawaiian Caucus of the state Legislature and members of the Native Hawaiian community also denounced the video — and criticized UH.

“In 2017, OHA sued the state and UH for their decades-long failure to meet their legal duty to adequately manage Mauna Kea and its natural and cultural resources,” OHA said in a written statement. “The actions captured in the video are just another example of the state’s inability to prevent disrespectful behavior on the mountain’s sacred cultural landscape. It is time for the state and UH to be held accountable for their longstanding and well-documented mismanagement of Mauna Kea.”

Nagata said the skiers and snowboarders never applied for a required film permit and would have never been granted permission if they had.

Because there was no snow on the mountain at the time of the incident, the individuals may have scarred a geological formation and may have damaged the habitat of a species of Wekiu bug endemic to the mountain. The flightless bugs, first discovered in 1979, can only be found on the summit of Mauna Kea.

The Office of Maunakea Management urged visitors to treat the mountain with respect. The Maunakea Rangers, who oversee UH-managed lands, do not allow hiking off of designated trails.

The skiing and snowboarding occurred on the south side of the Pu‘u Poli‘ahu, which is hidden from view of the rangers, according to UH.

The university has no authority to issue fines or pursue civil remedies, but is in the process of forming new administrative rules for public and commercial activities that would give it the authority to directly address such an incident.

A second round of public hearings on these rules is expected to be held this spring. The university seeks additional input on its latest draft, which was updated based on feedback from the first round of public hearings in 2018.

Under the current draft, damaging or disturbing any natural feature, resource, geological, paleontological features and historic or prehistoric property or remains would be prohibited. Violators would be subject to immediate expulsion, administrative fines and/or a monetary assessment to recover the cost of restoration.

Since the state removed these lands from the Forest Reserve System in 1968, the university said, none of these remedies exist.

After the second round of public hearings, the draft may be updated again and subject to more hearings, or it may go to the governor for adoption.

“The public’s constructive engagement in this rulemaking process is welcomed and encouraged,” the university said in its news release.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Puʻu Poliʻahu as the highest peak of Mauna Kea. It is the second-highest peak.
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