Unpermitted trail clearing in the state forest has led to a citation from state environmental officials against the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation for violating the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, foundation leaders confirmed this week.

The clearing, which began in 2018 and involved some 25 miles of trails in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, was done under a written agreement between Sheriff’s Meadow and state Department of Conservation and Recreation, the state agency that owns the 5,000-acre state forest on Martha’s Vineyard.

But Sheriff’s Meadow executive director Adam Moore said the clearing was halted this past spring after the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program intervened, citing violations since the work had never received proper permits from that agency.

The trail clearing work was halted in March, and since then Sheriff’s Meadow has been in active talks with the DCR and Natural Heritage to resolve the matter, Mr. Moore said. He said no rare plants were destroyed in the trail clearing, and that a detailed report and mitigation plan have been submitted to the state.

“We intend to resolve this formally . . . the entire forest is priority habitat,” Mr. Moore told the Gazette by phone Thursday. “And I apologize for the permitting violations. We take it very seriously and we will do our best to do whatever is needed to resolve the issue to make things right and to make sure we don’t have a problem like this again.”

A notice of noncompliance was issued by Natural Heritage in a June 10 letter addressed to Michael Berwind, the volunteer who led the trail clearing project. Mr. Moore confirmed Mr. Berwind had been a member of the Sheriff’s Meadow board, but has since resigned.

The letter, which was provided to the Gazette, ordered the trail work to cease, and requested a detailed map and project narrative for all work conducted in the priority habitat areas. Violations of the state endangered species act can be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

In an emailed statement after press time Thursday, a spokesman for DCR confirmed that talks are under way to resolve the matter.

“The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) are aware of the existence of trails within Manuel F. Correllus State Forest on Martha’s Vineyard that were created without following the proper procedures for proposed new trails, design, and installation,” the statement said.  “Currently, the state agencies are reviewing the issue, and plan to take additional follow-up actions once all information has been collected and evaluated.”

Mr. Moore said the trail clearing project dates to 2018, when Sheriff’s Meadow entered into a volunteer stewardship agreement with DCR. The agreement was signed by both Mr. Moore and former state forest superintendent Chris Bruno, according to Mr. Moore. At the time, he said, a partnership with the state to help better manage the forest was an emerging idea.

“We had hoped to form a broader public-private partnership. We hoped it could be beneficial to the forest and the Island community . . . there was a form with a description that both Chris and I signed,” Mr. Moore said.

The work was all volunteer and no money changed hands, Mr. Moore said. And it came at a time when upkeep on state forest trails had fallen behind, with funding and manpower scarce. For a time Mr. Bruno did not even have a tractor, Mr. Moore said, and Sheriff’s Meadow offered assistance with equipment and volunteers.

Over the course of roughly the next year and a half, about 25 miles of trails were cleared, about 15 miles of them existing trails that had become overgrown, Mr. Moore said.

In March 2019, Mr. Moore continued to pursue the partnership idea in a letter sent to the commissioner of DCR, who works under the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

“I am writing to inquire whether the Department of Conservation and Recreation would consider creating a long-term partnership with Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation,” Mr. Moore wrote in the letter, which he provided to the Gazette. “I believe that both the department and the foundation have much to offer each other, and that a strong partnership can be mutually beneficial for long into the future.”

The letter cited possible shared use of a garage at the state forest headquarters, shared trail maintenance and rare species inventories as mutual benefits of a partnership.

Meanwhile, the volunteer trail work continued on and off, Mr. Moore said, under the belief that permits were in place with DCR. “Certainly we never intended to have any permit violations,” he said.

“We did ask repeatedly if permits were needed and could be provided, we were told they were.”

He said Sheriff’s Meadow and Mr. Bruno also collaborated on a community project that involved placing benches on public conservation lands.

Mr. Bruno left his job as state forest superintendent in March of this year, moving off-Island to take another job. The forest has been without a full-time superintendent since then; DCR has appointed a part-time superintendent who commutes to the Island to manage forest matters.

Mr. Moore said at the request of the state, over this past summer Sheriff’s Meadow removed the cleared trails in question from its trails app — a popular phone app launched in 2018 that provides a digital guide to public trails on Island conservation properties.

Meanwhile, he said talks among the three agencies remain ongoing, and that he hoped for a resolution soon.

“We are willing to do whatever is needed to make this right,” he said.