DU Member Tom Foti Wins a National Wetlands Award
LITTLE ROCK, Ark., May 17, 2005 – Tom Foti spends each day trying to save the world. It’s taking longer than he thought. After more than 35 years as a biologist and conservationist, on May 18 in Washington, D.C., Foti will be recognized for his efforts.
|A native Arkansan, Foti¡¯s dedicated his entire life to conserving wetlands and waterfowl habitat. |
Foti is one of four Ducks Unlimited members, together with three other wetlands educators, scientists and conservationists, receiving a 2005 National Wetlands Award from the Environmental Law Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USDA Forest Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Federal Highway Administration and NOAA Fisheries.
A native Arkansan, Foti’s dedicated his entire life to conserving wetlands and waterfowl habitat. His early work decades ago in stopping the Corps of Engineers from channeling the Cache River had far-reaching and unforeseen effects which proved critical to the recent discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, once thought extinct.
Foti teamed with Dr. Rex Hancock who led a grassroots movement that stopped the Corps’ work on 232 miles of the Cache River and Bayou DeView, saving one of North America’s most important bottomland hardwood ecosystems and home to the ivory-billed woodpecker. Because of the efforts of Foti, Hancock and others, the RAMSAR Convention recognized the Lower White and Cache River basins in 1989 as a Wetland of International Importance. Duck hunters all across the nation recognize the Cache River for another prestigious honor ─ as one of the most important wintering areas for mallards in the United States.
Foti often works with Ducks Unlimited and state and federal agencies on projects. One proposed project that involves DU is restoring the natural meanders destroyed by the nine miles of ditch on the lower Cache River that the Corps dug before being stopped by lawsuits and public opinion.
“We are trying to get enough groups interested to restore the river,” said Foti. “We believe we can accomplish a great deal by working with the Corps of Engineers. In most cases, today, unlike in the past, I work with the Corps to get projects that are good for all of us or that strike a reasonable balance.”
Other key restoration projects involving Foti, DU and the Arkansas Game and Fish commission include plans for the expansion of Seven Devils Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Monticello and bottomland hardwood restoration efforts at Bayou Meto WMA.
While working for the Arkansas Ecology Center doing environmental research in the early 1970s, Foti worked on the first inventory of natural areas in Arkansas. The inventory resulted in the first list of rare species of plants and animals in the state and included a groundbreaking analysis of the rarity of species. This work led to the creation of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) which he joined in 1985 and where he now works as research chief.
The ANHC inventories rare species in Arkansas and protects them wherever possible. They oversee 60 areas, comprising 20,000 acres, acquired through cooperative work with state and federal agencies and private landowners.
He refined the eco-regions in the state to understand how the natural landscape of the state changes from place to place. He revised the national vegetation classes to better reflect wetlands diversity in Arkansas.
“If a region was formed by rivers, like east Arkansas, you’ll see the rivers laid down deep soil in the area,” said Foti. “The natural vegetation is bottomland forest and wetlands, influenced by the rivers. This made the area one of the most important wildlife areas in the country.”
He co-authored the hydrogeomorphic (HGM) classification of Arkansas wetlands. HGM is a way of understanding wetlands in terms of the way they function and act. This differs from the more traditional approach of plant community (forested swamp, marsh, bottomland hardwood). HGM concentrates on the source of water and underlying soils in the wetlands.
“What happens to the water that comes into the wetlands is one of the questions we ask,” Foti said. “What effect does it have on the wetlands? Is it for flood storage, groundwater recharge, biological habitat, or slowing flood waters?”
The HGM approach tries to analyze these functions of wetlands. In Arkansas, they joined all the state agencies with wetland responsibilities into a multi-agency wetland planning team (MAWPT— fondly called “mopped”).
The MAWPT classifies wetlands using HGM concepts and then samples a large number of wetlands in different conditions. For each wetland type, the MAWPT builds mathematical models to show how it functions when it is in good condition and how the function gets lost as it is degraded. The team measures certain factors in the fields and runs computer models to determine the functional level of that wetland.
“We use it to assess how they are functioning today in any given area and can set up restoration plans to improve the functioning of the wetlands,” said Foti. “It is a really good tool to understand, protect and restore wetlands.”
Foti said he’s very pleased and honored to receive the National Wetlands Award.
With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands − nature’s most productive ecosystem − and continues to lose more than 100,000 wetland acres each year.