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Tom Foti Paved the Way for Today's Partnerships

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, May 31, 2018

Tom Foti accomplished much throughout his career due to his tenacity, drive, and persistence. Through his fortitude, Tom also forged relationships and friendships with a wide variety of non-traditional partnerships, eventually earning the respect of key staff and leadership.

Unheard of in Arkansas at the time, Tom was able to forge relationships with utility companies, forest products industries, timber companies, and government entities that had not previously been allies, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Highway Department (now called the Arkansas Department of Transportation). Previously, these relationships had been strained, if not adversarial. Thanks to Tom’s relationship-building, these non-traditional partnerships have become more of the norm than the exception to the rule.

Tom worked extensively with the forest product industry and facilitated numerous land acquisitions of significant ecological sites from various timber companies. One of the better-known examples is his work with Potlatch Timber Company, which resulted in the addition of Moro Big Pine to the System of Natural Areas in 2007, creating the largest natural area to date. This revolutionary partnership has allowed the ANHC to protect and manage approximately 16,000 acres of pine flatwoods habitat and one of the state’s largest populations of the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis, RCW).

Often credited with bringing science to the natural area preservation movement in Arkansas, Tom was instrumental in implementing an objective and reasoned assessment of rarity, relative imperilment, and threats to the state’s species and natural communities. Tom was creative in his pursuit of funding to support natural community understanding, restoration, and preservation. With Tom’s help, the Arkansas Multi-Agency Wetland Planning Team received more than a decade’s worth of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wetlands Grants that resulted in the creation of Geographic Information System (GIS) maps of restorable areas, potential natural vegetation, and hydrogeomorphic (HGM) subclasses for all six ecoregions of Arkansas. As a result, Arkansas is the only state in the country to have HGM classification of all wetlands in the state.

Working with the EPA, Tom helped improve and subdivide the classifications of the state’s ecoregions. He worked with NatureServe to describe and refine the U.S. National Vegetation Classification (NVC) to reflect the diversity of Arkansas’s natural communities. The revised ecoregion classifications serve as the basis for the state’s Comprehensive State Wildlife Action Plan, and nested within those, the NVC is used to describe the habitats for the statewide conservation plan.

Tom was a leader and a major field worker in the creation of a vegetative map for the Buffalo National River, a collaborative project between NatureServe, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Over the course of the past decade, he played a lead role in developing a set of Potential Natural Vegetation (PNV) maps covering more than 26,000 square miles within the Lower Mississippi Valley, including the entire Delta Region of Arkansas. The PNV maps help guide restoration planning and prioritization. Tom helped develop a method to map the PNV communities based on abiotic (physical, rather than biological) factors, a technique that was published in the journal Wetlands and resulted in a series of atlases for the Mississippi Alluvial Plain within Arkansas and beyond. The maps are publically available through a network of cooperatives established by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

After a career of earning near-universal respect from a variety of stakeholders, Tom is regarded as THE expert on ecological matters in the state. When Tom speaks up in a meeting or in written comments in an environmental review, people listen. Respected by all sides, Tom has served as a bridge between federal land management agencies and environmental groups at odds over how to best manage landscape-scale restoration projects.

At levels ranging from ecoregions to natural communities, Tom has dramatically increased Arkansans’ understanding of their natural heritage and their ability to protect the state’s ecological diversity. As a result of his many professional and personal works, this generation and future generations will be able to enjoy the great wealth of Arkansas’s diversity and beauty for years to come.






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