DLNR: Protest might be harming endangered plants

  • This photo taken July 15 from Puu Huluhulu across from Maunakea Access Road shows the location of the protesters’ camp. (Tribune-Herald/file photo)

  • An ‘anunu vine, photographed in 2004 on Puu Mali. (Forest and Kim Starr/Starr Environmental)

HILO — The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is investigating how the occupation of Maunakea Access Road might be harming a rare native Hawaiian plant and several other endangered species.

In particular, the DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement is concerned about the health of the ‘anunu vine (also known as the alpine bur cucumber or largeleaf bur cucumber), a particularly uncommon flowering plant only found on the Big Island. Investigators are determining whether specimens of the vine were possibly destroyed at Pu‘u Huluhulu, where the U.S. Army had attempted to reintroduce the plant.

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In 2008, only between 24 and 26 ‘anunu vine specimens were known to exist in the wild, according to a research paper from that year. It has only nine known habitats on the island, including Honaunau, the Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge and Pu‘u Huluhulu, the hill around which opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope have camped for nearly two months while opposing the construction of the observatory.

The vine is considered “highly threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A 2013 paper found that the species has a poor ability to adapt to changes in its environment and is thus endangered at all its locations.

‘Ilima Long, one of the demonstrators at Pu‘u Huluhulu, said the protesters — who call themselves protectors of Maunakea — have worked with conservationists since the demonstrations began in July to implement procedures that would protect the ecological integrity of the area.

These procedures included a general closure of the hill to the public, with only two daily tours allowed on Pu‘u Huluhulu’s public trail on weekends and the entire hill closed during weekdays.

“We hope that DOCARE is just as concerned about the ecological impacts of an 18-story building that the state and the TMT corporation want constructed in pristine alpine conservation lands at the summit of Maunakea,” Long told the Tribune-Herald.

In addition to the ‘anunu vine, DLNR reported that five other critically endangered plants have been stepped on during the standoff, and investigators also are concerned about how the standoff will affect the endangered nene population as the birds enter their breeding season.

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DLNR officials will discuss the threats to the various species during a news conference at 9 a.m. today at the DLNR branch office in Hilo.

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

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