Community volunteers pitch in to Malama Mauna Kea

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Alicia and Mark Chun help gather weeds during the volunteer workday on Mauna Kea on Feb. 1 (PHOTO COURTESY OF OMKM FOR NHN)
Hawaii Community College students Natalie Summey and Chantelle Mashreghy pull weeds during the volunteer workday. (PHOTO COURTESY OF OMKM FOR NHN)
Melissa Costa and her 9 year-old son Elijah, a student at Na Wai Ola Public Charter School remove invasive species from Mauna Kea. (PHOTO COURTESY OF OMKM FOR NHN)

Picture-perfect conditions this past Saturday on Mauna Kea lured a traffic jam of local folks for a fun-loving family snow day. Below the snowline near Hale Pohaku another 45 people gathered, but their mission was entirely different. These dedicated volunteers came to lend their hands in the ongoing initiative to malama Mauna Kea by eradicating invasive weeds.

This diverse group of volunteers arrived from all parts of the island and included local families, college students and committed individuals who gathered at the 9,000 foot level to do their part in taking care of Mauna Kea by hand pulling fireweed, or Senecio madagascariensis, from around the Visitor Information Station at Hale Pohaku. Pulling weeds helps both to reduce their likelihood of being inadvertently spread to the upper elevations of Mauna Kea as well as eliminate potential habitats for invasive arthropods such as ants.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the community’s volunteer commitment to spend their Saturday pulling invasive species on Mauna Kea,” said Fritz Klasner, Office of Mauna Kea Management natural resource manager. “We had parents bringing their children to volunteer and, in turn, to set the foundation for these young people to nurture our natural environment for years to come.”

Volunteer Melissa Costa said, “With our busy family of four, my husband working in Waikoloa and us living in Mountain View, my time is spent helping our kids with school, transportation and my own classes. Time is precious and hard to spare, but when I saw that families could come help, I knew I wanted to get involved. My 9-year son came with me this time. Hopefully next time, more of my family can come to help malama the mountain.”

Volunteers gathered 58 bags filled with weeds during the first Invasive Species Weed Pull this year. Since the Office of Mauna Kea Management started this volunteer weed pull effort in 2012, volunteers have logged nearly 1,800 hours and removed more than 600 trash bags of invasive weeds from Mauna Kea.

Volunteers also went on a short hike to the state’s Mauna Kea Silversword Enclosure to care for and monitor nearly 200 Silverswords planted by the Office of Mauna Kea Management and volunteers last year. Replanting the Mauna Kea Silversword that can live for about 80 years is part of an ongoing effort to restore native habitat surrounding the Visitor Information Center at Hale Pohaku. The day concluded with a talk by University of Hawaii at Hilo professor Marianne Takamiya who shared stories of her work with students and others to discover the wonders of Mauna Kea.

The overarching mission of the Office of Mauna Kea Management is 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.

The Office of Mauna Kea Management, in partnership with its Environment Committee, Kahu Ku Mauna and Mauna Kea Management Board, has established a clear set of priorities, developed programs like the invasive species weed pulls and identified partners to help achieve the overall goal to malama Mauna Kea. The task of developing and coordinating programs aimed at protecting UH’s managed lands on Mauna Kea’s vast natural environment comprised of 12,000 acres is a daunting one. The Office of Mauna Kea Management is charged with the day-to-day management of Mauna Kea Science Reserve as prescribed in the Master Plan with its focus on respect for Hawaiian cultural beliefs, protection of environmentally sensitive habitat, recreational use of the mountain and astronomy research.