Subterranean team protects bats in caves and abandoned mines

03.19.24

By Kristen Pope. Featuring BCI Subterranean Team Lead Shawn Thomas.

Shawn Thomas in Cave. Josh Hydeman

If you’re looking for Shawn Thomas, you might want to take a peek below ground. Since 2014, he’s been leading BCI’s Subterranean Team, which is part of the Habitat Protection and Restoration Program. Before Thomas joined BCI, he spent even more time underground working for the National Park Service. Yes, some of your favorite national parks have caves in them! Thomas’s work for the National Park Service involved exploring, managing, and documenting a number of different cave systems throughout the western part of the United States.

Why is this underground world so important? Many species of bats require habitat below ground. These are called “cave obligate” species which need caves or similar underground spaces, such as abandoned mines, for important activities like roosting, hibernating, and raising pups.

In order to protect these important areas for bats and other wildlife, BCI is working on a number of projects to protect, preserve, and restore subterranean habitat, in cooperation with federal and state agencies and private landowners. Recently, BCI also signed a five-year agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to perform work on a number of National Wildlife Refuges that contain abandoned mines.

Shawn Thomas surveying mines in San Diego. Rachel Harper

When working to protect cave obligate bats, it’s also important to protect the “above ground” habitat near the cave or mine entrances. While some species may require underground areas for important life functions, they also need areas above ground to find food—like insects and pollen—and water. Disturbance and loss of habitat—both underground and above ground—as well as development and human visitation and recreation can push bats out of these vital areas.

That’s why Thomas and his team are working to restore habitat around abandoned mine openings and install bat gates to protect both people, bats, and even the other wildlife that call that area home. The team also works to conduct cultural surveys to make sure any significant cultural resources in the area are protected. This work helps protect bats, other wildlife, and humans alike. 

Learn more: Read a Bat Chat Q&A with Shawn Thomas in Bats Magazine.

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Shawn Thomas

Subterranean Team Lead

Shawn Thomas – Subterranean Team Lead

Shawn Thomas joined the BCI staff in July, 2014. As Projects Manager for the Subterranean Program, Shawn coordinates projects involving inventories and monitoring of cave and mine-roosting bats. These projects involve working with diverse partners, ranging from federal agencies to private mining companies.

Prior to  working for BCI, Shawn specialized in cave management for the National Park Service, having worked for several cave parks in the western U.S., including Carlsbad Caverns National Park (NM), Lava Beds National Monument (CA), Oregon Caves National Monument (OR), Great Basin National Park (NV), and Jewel Cave National Monument (SD).

Outside of work, Shawn’s time is focused on exploring and mapping caves, with active projects in Arizona (Grand Canyon National Park caves), New Mexico (Lechuguilla Cave, Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave), and Montana (Bob Marshall Wilderness caves).  

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