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BLNR to look into restricting access to West Maui reserve

State says rock climbers are impacting native plants

The state is considering restricting access to portions of the West Maui Natural Area Reserve where rock climbing activities are threatening native plant species.

In the Lihau section of the reserve, rock climbers have been installing hardware and footholds into cliffs that are impacting threatened and endangered plants, such as the Maui chaff flower (Achyranthes splendens) and the Menzies’ schiedea (Schiedea menziesii), according to Board of Land and Natural Resources documents. Some individuals of these species are actually growing under the metal holds and steps pounded into the dry cliff walls.

Climbers who hike through the area to reach the vertical walls also are affecting West Maui’s only known population of yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brachenridgei), which is in danger of trampling or breakage by hikers.

The dry cliff ecosystem in Lihau is home to vegetation that grows on steep slopes in areas that receive less than 75 inches of rainfall a year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Critical Habitat designation.

“This dry cliff ecosystem is found on all of the main Hawaiian islands except Niihau and is best represented along the leeward slopes of Lanai and Maui,” according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Modifying geological features, including chipping away rock for footholds, is prohibited under state law, according to BLNR documents.

The Division of Forestry and Wildlife is asking the board to restrict access to cliff areas in the Lihau section — including areas with slopes greater than 65 degrees, where this rare ecosystem of plants lives — for a period of up to two years. The division also said it would install signs explaining to the rock climbing community why these activities threaten the rare plants whose only habitat is dry cliffs.

“While Natural Area Reserves are generally open to the public, the very close proximity of these climbing routes to rare plant species warrants a closure to prevent further harm to these critically endangered plants,” the division said in its request to the board.

The board will consider the request during its meeting at 9:15 a.m. Friday in the Land Board Conference Room of the Kalanimoku Building at 1151 Punchbowl St. in Honolulu.

Public testimony can be emailed to blnr.testimony@hawaii.gov and must be received no later than 24 hours before the board meeting. Late written testimony will be retained as part of the record, but it’s not guaranteed that the board will have enough time to review it before making a decision.

Individuals who plan to attend the meeting and need special assistance or auxiliary aids or services — such as a sign language interpreter or wheelchair accessibility — should contact staff at least 72 hours before the meeting at (808) 587-0404.

To review the meeting agendas and documents, visit dlnr.hawaii.gov/meetings/. Materials also are available in person at 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 131.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.