The Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit or PCSU was founded in 1973 as a research unit of the National Park Service. Over time and under changing national political winds, PCSU evolved into a University of Hawaii (UH) research unit focusing on basic and applied research on natural resources and biodiversity in Hawaii and the Pacific, working with an expanded range of state and federal agencies, private foundations and private landowners.
While PCSU projects have ranged as far afield as China, Brazil and Alaska, its main focus has been the Hawaiian islands where it has projects on all the main islands. Its projects are mostly cooperative, linking agencies that might otherwise have difficulty working together and achieving economies of scale in addressing problems at the landscape level.
PCSU projects such as watershed partnerships and island invasive species committees are community-based, with informal steering committees of interested landowners, local and state officials, and the public. PCSU supplies the onsite and administrative expertise and logistical support. This arrangement generates strong local buy-in and funding for the groups. In addition, PCSU works with state, federal and NGOs on restoring degraded natural ecosystems and conserving endangered species. The Hawaii Ant Lab on Big Island, a joint project with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, has developed new methods to combat invasions of the Little Fire Ant, working with local groups on islands where the ants have invaded, and offering assistance to homeowners on Big Island where the ant has become established. Since 2004, PCSU as been a part of the Hawaii Pacific Branch of The Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Units (CESU) Network.
PCSU is a significant source of employment, and its projects provide a pathway into natural resource management and the environmental jobs sector. Almost half of our employees are past or present University of Hawaii students and 21% are Native Hawaiians.
PCSU has deliberately kept a low profile, deferring publicity and credit to its partners. This model has been successful as the unit has grown from 150 staff in 1998 to 420 in 2016. Similarly, the need for PCSU has increased funding from just over $2 M in 1996 to almost $20 M in 2016. Except for two half-time faculty positions and space on campus, PCSU receives no general fund support from UH, so it operates essentially as a small business, having to meet a payroll. However, UH support in grant administration is essential, as is the unit’s partnership with the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii for management of personnel and contracting.
Operating across the state, with close involvement with local communities, PCSU addresses environmental challenges that threaten the sustainability of our island ecosystems. As such it is an effective model of UH’s commitment to the community, its students, its research aims, and the future of Hawaii.
PCSU has also produced a series of technical reports on Hawaiian and Pacific natural and cultural resource research and management issues that are widely used by managers and scientists alike.