Some popular and environmentally sensitive areas of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve could remain closed to the public for another year while the state continues work on a draft management plan for the South Maui reserve.
Pat Borge, a neighbor of the reserve and a member of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve/Keoneoio Advisory Group, said even though the state wanted to extend the closure for two more years, he and his fellow advisory group members voted to recommend only a one-year extension at an April meeting.
The closure has gone on too long, he said. And, because of the state's lack of rangers in the area with fewer people in the reserve, poachers have found it easy to sneak into the reserve and harvest the fish and opihi.
"I see this going on," Borge said of the poaching. "I'm not a cop. I can only do so much."
Borge said he thinks the state has had enough time to complete its draft management plan, which the advisory group and others have worked on for several years.
Another advisory group member, county environmental coordinator Rob Parsons, also supported the closure for only one year. He pointed out that protecting the pristine area's natural resources is an important and urgent matter, especially after hearing that there are poachers in the reserve.
"I think it (the additional closure period) helps us keep on track and get something done within a one-year period or sooner," he said. "Lots of people shared this is an urgent situation."
He added that he and other group members would like the management plan implemented sooner rather than later.
On Aug. 1, 2008, a portion of the reserve was closed to the public to allow for studies and for the state to work on a draft management plan. The closure came after years of escalating conflicts over human use. Large numbers of visitors had been hiking across the lava flows in Ahihi-Kinau in search of coves that had been publicized in guidebooks as snorkel spots such as "Fishbowl" and "Aquarium."
But the state has kept open the northern portion of the reserve at Waiala Cove and Kanahena Cove, also known as "Dumps."
The advisory group's recommendation will be under consideration at a Natural Area Reserves System Commission meeting June 4 on Oahu, said William Evanson, Maui District NARS program manager. From there, the recommendation needs to be approved by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Evanson said he and other Department of Land and Natural Resources officials are working hard to complete the draft management plan and hope to finish it in the next six months.
He added that the plan has taken longer to complete than expected because of various issues, including the length of time to discuss and plan the recent investigation of possible unexploded shells and bombs in the reserve that was formerly used for military exercises.
The U.S. military used an area in the reserve called Kanahena Point for bombing practice from early 1945 until the end of World War II, later that same year. The reserve was established in 1972 and contains 1,238 acres on land and 807 acres in water.
Evanson said the state was awaiting final results of the ordnance study to include that in the draft plan. But because there is an urgency by the advisory group members and the public to finish the draft plan, the state will work on it while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its contractors finalize their report of their ordnance study, which was done in October and November last year.
The corps and its contractors conducted a $2 million investigation in the reserve, in which only about 1 percent of the area was scientifically combed for ordnance.
Both Evanson and Joseph Bonfiglio, chief of public affairs at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that during the study only munitions debris were found and no unexploded ordnance.
Bonfiglio said there is no firm date for completion and release of the remedial investigation and feasibility study. But once a draft of the investigation and study report has been finalized, it will be available for public review and comment.
Evanson said the draft management plan could be affected by what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may recommend in its final report.
The number of reserve rangers has dropped to only one full-time staff member, Evanson said. A number of employees left for personal reasons. At least one position was frozen, and another was lost because funding was lost, he said.
The reserve's lead ranger position, which was vacated in 2010 and later frozen because of the state's tight budget, was recently reopened for hiring, Evanson said. He added that he hopes to have that position filled by August.
Also, there are plans to fill a position for a volunteer program and education coordinator in about three months, he said. That would lead to the return of volunteer groups that would help be the eyes and ears of reserve staff members.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.