Construction of telescopes on Mauna Kea has been a source of intense legal and political controversy in recent years. Due to the qualities listed above, it is a highly favored location and the summit area is now home to over a dozen telescopes. Native Hawaiians and environmental groups have protested that construction of additional telescopes would cause considerable environmental damage and further desecrate a site of great cultural importance. According to legend, the summit of Mauna Kea is the home of the snow goddess, Poliahu, and many other deities. It is also an important site for prayer, burials, consecration of children, and traditional celestial observation. In addition, the summit area is home to a unique insect, the wēkiu bug, which feeds on insects blown to the summit by updrafts. The insect itself is a major point of debate.
The stability of wēkiu bug populations has been a matter of controversy. Development of the summit area of Mauna Kea for telescopes has adversely affected the ecology of the area, including compaction of the loose cinder and spills of chemicals used in maintaining the telescopes. Although the bugs inhabit other cones that are not being built on, hiking and other human activity can have a serious impact on them. An early wēkiu bug survey using lethal pitfall traps collected an unexpectedly large number of specimens, and was accused of depleting the population. Later surveys funded by telescope owners were alleged to have underplayed the impact of development on the bugs. Monitoring of the population, now using non-lethal trapping methods, is ongoing. One difficulty with using baited traps is the limited movement of individuals; a trap immediately adjacent to a melting snowpack may obtain several specimens, while one just a few feet away gets none.