Natural News

Natural News

Tom Foti Officially Retires From the ANHC

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, May 31, 2018

The ANHC’s Senior Ecologist (or as some know him, Arkansas’s Ecologist Emeritus), Tom Foti is officially retiring from the ANHC at the end of June 2018. Foti served with the ANHC for 21 years, first as a plant community ecologist, and then as chief of Research, until he retired from full-time employment in 2006. Tom later returned to the ANHC on a part-time basis as a senior ecologist, in which he continued to advise and mentor staff, lead large-scale ecological research and restoration projects across Arkansas, and lend his experience to all kinds of natural resource issues.

In the early 1970s, Tom participated in the first inventory of natural areas in Arkansas which resulted in the Arkansas Natural Area Plan and later, the creation of the ANHC. As part of that work, he described and published the “Natural Divisions of Arkansas,” the foundation of the ANHC’s ecoregional approach to protection of the state’s System of Natural Areas.

In 1970, Tom began volunteering with the Arkansas Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization. In 1973, he became the organization’s research coordinator and in 1976, its director. While there, he worked against plans to dam the Cossatot River in the Ouachita Mountains and channelize the Cache River in eastern Arkansas. He was also part of the group of 8-10 people who created the Citizens Committee “Save the Cache River Basin.” His efforts helped save the iconic Cache from channelization, and the Cache River bottomlands are now recognized as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.*

When Tom wasn’t working on high-profile projects like saving the Cossatot River and Cache River, he was educating Arkansans about the natural diversity of our state. He wrote and published two texts for educators on “The Natural Divisions of Arkansas” and gave numerous educational programs for schools and the general public. He also worked with the Oakleaf Institute, a nonprofit scientific research and environmental education organization. For his work, he was honored by the Arkansas Wildlife Federation in 1977 as Conservation Educator of the Year.

In the early 1980s, Tom returned to graduate school. In 1985, he joined the ANHC as plant community ecologist and eventually became chief of Research. While working on inventory and protection of natural areas throughout the state, Tom focused attention on developing understanding of the ecological systems of the Gulf Coastal Plain and protecting some of the best examples. Tom developed a significant interest in wetlands and co-founded the Arkansas Multi-Agency Wetland Planning Team. He co-authored the hydrogeomorphic (HGM) classification of wetlands in Arkansas, as well as five regional guidebooks for HGM assessment. In 2005, he received the National Wetlands Award in the field of “State, Tribal, and Local Program Development” honoring his work identifying, understanding, and protecting Arkansas’s wetlands.

As plant community ecologist and chief of Research with the ANHC, Tom mentored staff, described ecological communities, conducted field inventory on the ground and from the air (despite a fear of heights), selected and designated preserves, and was instrumental in the protection of natural areas. He came to an understanding early on that many natural areas need active management. He took on the hard work of converting many of the key players in Arkansas conservation to this idea. He took people out to interpret and show off the results of prescribed fires, woodland thinning, and other management activities and explained why they are important and necessary.

Tom led and served on interagency environmental teams for the planning and construction of two major U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects that will provide vital irrigation water for agricultural use and help conserve precious groundwater resources. He helped develop plans for these projects that will restore thousands of acres of native habitats, including exceedingly rare tallgrass prairies. Tom is a major proponent of using local genotype seeds for restoration projects and led the Corps to collect prairie grass seeds from local prairie remnants, establish native seed-production plots, and restore prairie that is genetically appropriate for east-central Arkansas.

Even when bogged down with administrative duties, Tom made time to write and publish. His extensive list of publications ranges from books and teaching aides for students and the general public to highly technical peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals (see companion enews article about his publications). Subjects of his technical papers include landscape-scale systems such as the natural divisions and ecoregions of Arkansas and surrounding states. Other technical papers describe the prehistoric or presettlement ecological conditions of various ecoregions and natural communities, fire ecology, geomorphology, and the description and classification of natural communities, including blackland prairies, the Grand Prairie of eastern Arkansas, forests of the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests, and bottomland hardwood forests of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and Gulf Coastal Plain.

After Tom’s retirement from full-time employment in 2006, he stayed active as a volunteer, putting in many more hours than he was paid for on all manner of projects, from assisting with prescribed burns to cutting and spraying invasive plants on prairies. In the last few years, he has donated hundreds of hours to collecting native seed from prairie remnants across the region for the Arkansas Native Seed Initiative – an effort to establish ecoregional genotype seeds of native plants for use in conservation projects across the state. But Tom’s most valuable volunteer work, which will certainly continue past his full retirement, is his time spent mentoring younger staff and volunteers working in conservation.


*The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance grew out of an intergovernmental treaty, The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran 1971), also called the Ramsar Convention. Member countries committed to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the wise, or sustainable, use of all of the wetlands in their territories. Wetlands included in the List acquire a new status at the national level and are recognized by the international community as being of significant value not only for the country, or the countries, in which they are located, but also for humanity as a whole.









Recent Posts