Work in the West

Big skies and (sometimes) even bigger terrain, a large part of the SubT's team's work
takes place in the western United States.
Photo: Katie Jepson / Bat Conservation International

The BCI Subterranean Program team’s members have been all over the United States, and even different parts of the world, to share their expertise and knowledge for preserving the subterranean world for bats.

A large part of the SubT team’s work takes place in the western half of the United States, where the majority of the country’s abandoned mines are located. Here, the SubT team works side-by-side with local, state and federal partners to evaluate whether a given abandoned mine area is used by bats, and how best to manage the closure of that land to mitigate human health impacts.

But that’s not all the Sub-T team does in the West.


White-nose Syndrome Monitoring

Nate Breece checks out a mine feature in Washington state.
Photo: Shawn Thomas / Bat Conservation International

After the fungal pathogen that causes white-nose syndrome in bats was detected in Washington State in 2016, the SubT team and BCI biologists assisted state agencies with additional surveys to look for more evidence of the disease in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The work also resulted in characterization of 20 new habitats over a three-month period, followed up by a series of re-surveys later that year.

But, as early as 2010, BCI's SubT Program was working with state and federal partners to survey and characterize winter roosts across the southwest and to collect substrate samples for the then, in-vogue, WNS detection method.

Bat Monitoring Protocol

A member of the SubT team collects a guano sample.
Photo: Shawn Thomas / Bat Conservation International

As part of the large-scale, collaborative effort to establish the North American Bat Monitoring Protocol, BCI’s SubT team has been working with the Department of Defense to install and maintain acoustic devices at the White Sands Missile Range, where some of the monitoring is taking place. The initiative seeks to monitor bat populations across the country and monitor for early warning signs of population declines. Data will be gathered from a variety of sources, including hibernaculum counts in caves and mines, counts in summer maternity colonies, mobile acoustic surveys along roads, and from stationary acoustic equipment.

National Parks Bat Use Studies

In Death Valley National Park, the SubT team is conducting mapping and bat species inventories in the early-1900s Skidoo gold mine. Along with a physical map of the historic archaeological site, the surveys will help the National Park Service locate important bat areas within the mine, including identification of the primary exits bats use to come and go and to help with further management of the site.

Other Wildlife Surveys

While monitoring for bats in mines and other subterranean structures, the SubT team also gathers data on the other types of wildlife they encounter in these places, including Desert Tortoises, Barn Owls, Rock-skinned Newts, Ptarmigans, porcupines, foxes and even coati. These data are valuable not only to land managers concerned with usage of the site, but also in a broad scientific sense, as the data contribute to reference resources including species distribution maps, habitat types and population counts.

Endangered Species Success Story

Lesser Long-Nosed Bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae)

The lesser long-nosed bat Leptonycteris yerbabuenae
is one of the primary pollinators of the agave plant.
Photo: Bruce D. Taubert

Listed as a federally endangered species in 1988, this nectar-feeding resident of the desert Southwest was proposed for removal from the Endangered Species list. The BCI SubT team was instrumental in conducting exhaustive searches for unknown roosts, as well as careful surveys of known roosts, of the lesser long-nosed bat throughout its range in the United States.

When initially listed, there were believed to be fewer than 1,000 bats at 14 known roosts. Today, there are an estimated 200,000 bats at 75 roosts, and the lesser long-nosed is awaiting final approval for ESA delisting

Already engaged in surveys in the region, the SubT program leveraged additional funding from NRCS and SWIG grants to survey every possible mine they could locate in southern Arizona. The team located target sites through a combination of discussions with local residents, scouring historic records and documents, and looking for signs of subterranean entrances on satellite and aerial maps, the team believes it has, along with other partners survey efforts, accounted for nearly every possible underground roosting site that lesser long-nosed bats might take advantage of.

This information enabled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to better understand the stability of bat populations at extant roosts, as well as overall availability of habitat, two key factors in a process that ultimately led the agency to recommend the species for delisting.