A Passion for Conservation on Martha's Vineyard
Get to know Mike Whittemore, The Nature Conservancy's Vineyard-based land steward.
How long have you been on Martha’s Vineyard?
I’ve been living and working here for The Nature Conservancy since early summer 2018, and I consider myself incredibly lucky. I grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, and when I was a kid, my dad brought me here many times to go striper fishing. I’ve always been drawn back. This is a very special place.
What are your responsibilities?
I help manage TNC’s lands on Cape Cod and the islands. Here, that includes about 1,000 acres of fee-owned lands and 600 acres of conservation restrictions—places where TNC has legal management responsibility. I also manage the Hoft Farm Field Station and volunteers and implement ecological restoration.
What about TNC’s work on Martha's Vineyard surprises people?
One thing is our ecological restoration work. Many people know there’s a lot of conservation on the island. But,TNC is distinct because part of our mission is to restore some of the open habitats and species that were more common in the past, and we do a lot of that here. People also might be surprised by a project TNC spearheaded: the Sandplain Grassland Network. This project pulled together scientists and land managers from Maine to New York to create a literature review and guidebook—something completely new—for managing this rare and beautiful habitat limited to a few spots in the Northeast, including the Vineyard.
What’s something you’re really excited about?
Restoring Bamford Preserve in Edgartown. Beginning in 2007, TNC and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole conducted research on the best restoration practices for the site, which had been agricultural grassland. Now, we’re applying what we learned. With volunteers, TNC has harvested and planted hundreds of pounds of native grass seed. Additionally, we’re controlling non-native grasses from past agricultural use so native grasses can thrive, and we’re seeing really good results restoring this to sandplain grassland. The next phase will include planting native wildflowers. Like so much of the work I’ve done since I came to the island, this work is built upon great things done by other TNC folks before me. We were also recently awarded a $25,900 grant from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife with Edgartown to expand and manage Bamford Preserve and nearby high-quality grassland at Katama Plains.
Can you say more about Hoft Farm?
At Hoft Farm, we’ve housed conservation interns from other organizations at a subsidized rate for more than 20 years. If we couldn’t supply this, some interns might not be able to afford to stay on the island. Since I started, we’ve had over 70 people stay here, including conservation interns, volunteers, scientists and staff. During fall and spring, we host Sierra Club volunteers from around the country for a week to help carry out stewardship and restoration. It’s an important resource for conservation on the island.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I love meeting people on the island and learning about the culture. I just signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters here. I kayak almost any chance I get; I’ll kayak out to the Elizabeth Islands, places that aren’t as easily accessible. My other favorite thing is to head up to the White Mountains to finish the 67 New England peaks—only a few more to go! I also enjoy visiting my family in Framingham on the way.