The Nature Conservancy has significantly cut back its presence on Martha’s Vineyard, with top officials confirming that they are looking to sell their Vineyard Haven office after the elimination of one Island staff position and the planned elimination of another.

Wayne Klockner, TNC vice president and state executive director for Massachusetts, said this week that program director Matt Pelikan lost his job effective April 1. And Tom Chase, a longtime TNC employee and current director of conservation innovation, will have his position eliminated effective June 30, 2020.

Conservancy helped preserve the Katama Airfield in the 1970s. — Mark Alan Lovewell

TNC spokesman James Miller said a broader reorientation of strategy and goals for the Massachusetts chapter of the organization has prompted many of the changes.

“We do plan to sell the current Vineyard office in Vineyard Haven,” Mr. Miller said. “I don’t have the specific timeline for that, but that is what we are planning to do.”

A global conservancy with assets of more than $6.5 billion, The Nature Conservancy owns approximately 1,000 acres of land that span the breadth of Martha’s Vineyard, including unspoiled forests in the Edwin Newhall Woods preserve in West Tisbury and the David Smith preserve in Edgartown. It also holds conservation restrictions on 560 acres, 240 of which are in collaboration with local partners. Those lands include the rare sandplain grasslands at the Katama Airfield and Herring Creek Farm in Edgartown.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Klockner both said despite the changes, the conservancy remains committed to the maintenance of its vast conservation lands on the Island. TNC will retain Island land steward Mike Whittemore, who will continue his field work on the Vineyard, they said.

“The changes that are happening with The Nature Conservancy on the Vineyard don’t impact our stewardship staff or our stewardship that we are doing out there,” Mr. Miller said. “Mike Whittemore will remain in that position. We are fully committed to stewardship on the Vineyard. It has been and always will be a priority for us.”

TNC’s presence on the Vineyard dates to the 1970s when it helped preserve the Katama Airfield. The Vineyard office was established 25 years ago. In 1993 the conservancy named the sandplain grasslands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket as one of the 40 Last Great Places on Earth — an ambitious global environmental initiative launched with great fanfare.

A report at the time found that some 90 per cent of the globally rare sandplain grasslands occur on the Vineyard and Nantucket. It listed wild indigo, shadbush and golden heather, as well as northern harriers, savannah sparrows and short-eared owls as particularly important species for conservation.

“You’ve really got a treasure trove in your backyard,” Carter Roberts, executive director of the conservancy’s Massachusetts branch, said at the time.

In the five years after the establishment of the Islands office, TNC spearheaded conservation initiatives on the Vineyard that were novel for the era but have since become commonplace, such as sandplain restoration and the use of controlled burns and fire management to protect habitats. There was a focus on large-scale land protection with properties like Herring Creek Farm, the Woods preserve, and several hundred acres near Long Point Wildlife Refuge.

In the early 2000s the conservancy became embroiled in controversy when it was investigated by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance for its conservation buyer program — which among other things had helped pave the way for the $64 million Herring Creek Farm sale.

In more recent years the conservancy began to tackle broad global challenges over community-based conservation initiatives. While the goal of protecting biodiversity has remained unchanged, the organization shifted away from protecting individual parcels of land as a conservation approach.

The cutbacks on the Vineyard come at a time of turmoil at the national level for TNC, which has been rocked by charges of misconduct in the workplace. Four officials, including the chief executive officer, the president, and the head of the Caribbean offices, all resigned in recent weeks after the news site Politico reported on an internal probe that found widespread sexual misconduct and harassment.

Vineyard Haven office will be sold. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Sally Jewell, former Secretary of the Interior under President Barack Obama and one-time Exxon-Mobil engineer and REI executive, has taken over as the interim CEO of the multinational nonprofit that has long been a friend to both powerful political and corporate interests.

Mr. Klockner said the recent changes at the Vineyard office are unrelated to those at the national level.

“The changes we instituted came before his [CEO Mark Tercek’s] resignation,” he told the Gazette in a phone interview this week.

Mr. Miller said the broader reorientation of strategic goals for the Massachusetts chapter occurred over the past winter. He said employees were informed of the changes on March 8.

“All the changes that we talk about at the Massachusetts chapter are the result of a significant strategic planning initiative that started in November of 2018 and extended into March of this year,” Mr. Miller said. “The object of the strategic planning was to focus the conservancy’s goals on what would have the greatest possible conservation impact and on our global conservation priorities.”

Those priorities include climate change, and promoting food and water sustainability.

“For the [state] chapters, what we’re trying to do, is make sure that the work we are doing aligns and supports those priorities,” Mr. Miller said.

According to Mr. Klockner, the addition of an assistant state director position last June created redundancies for the conservancy’s Island staff, leading to the elimination of Mr. Pelikan’s position. He also said budgetary concerns were a factor.

Mr. Miller said while the decision to reduce staff was difficult, it was not in response to the work the conservancy does on the Vineyard.

“One thing to recognize about the Vineyard positions is that while they are Vineyard-based positions, they aren’t necessarily Vineyard-focused positions,” he said. “These are difficult changes that we have undergone in Massachusetts, and these are people we admire, so it’s hard for everyone,” he said.

Mr. Klockner said the conservancy will continue to be on the lookout for conservation opportunities on the Island. He cited the organization’s work with the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust, investment in aquaculture, and recent efforts to put oysters back in Tisbury Great Pond as part of its work beyond of land conservation on the Island.

“Should any big conservation opportunities arise, The Nature Conservancy stands ready to make them happen,” he said.

Speaking with the Gazette, Mr. Chase, who has worked with the conservancy since the early 1990s but will be involved with a different project until his position is eliminated in 2020, said that while large conservation organizations have to undergo changes, it should not spell the end for Island conservation efforts.

“[TNC] is constantly evolving, and constantly trying to reinvent itself to meet global challenges,” Mr. Chase said. “Whether or not there should be more or less effort put into conservation isn’t a question that should be addressed to the conservancy alone. It should be a question we should be asking the entire Vineyard community.”