A Bat Week Special Interview with an Environmental Scientist and Wildlife Biologist

Welcome to Bat Week! 

Bat Week is an international and annual celebration to bring awareness to bat conservation – a significant issue for our Division of Mine Reclamation (DMR).  

Around the world, bats are vital to our ecosystems. They pollinate flowers, eat insects, and even spread seeds. In California, there are 25 native species of bats, and many of them live in abandoned mines.  

Interview with an environmental scientist

To bring attention to this year’s Bat Week, we spoke with Trinity Smith, an environmental scientist and wildlife biologist for DMR’s Abandoned Mine Lands Unit (AMLU).

Trinity Smith is holding a Pallid bat captured during a bat inventory effort in the Mojave Desert.
Photo Credit: J. Danielson Great Basin Institute.  

Division of Mine Reclamation’s role in bat conservation

AMLU is a team of engineering geologists, environmental scientists, and geospatial professionals dedicated to inventorying California’s abandoned mines, and working with landowners to remediate them if they pose a significant safety threat. 

A DMR employee inspects an abandoned mine in the Owens Valley. 

There are ten-of-thousands of old and abandoned mines in California, many dating back to the Gold Rush. These mines are can be hazardous to public health and safety, but also valuable habitat for wildlife, including bats. 

When DMR and its partners need to keep human visitors out of a mine, they work to ensure it is still accessible to wildlife using it as a habitat.

Trinity joined the unit last December and has been working primarily with bats for the past four years. 

Trinity Smith extracting a pallid bat from a mist net. Mist netting is commonly used by bat biologists to capture bats for research .
Photo Credit: J. Danielson, Great Basin Institute.

Hi Trinity! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Prior to joining the Department of Conservation, I worked with all sorts of wildlife in the western United States including fish, frogs, small mammals, birds, and bats. I first started working with bats on a project studying how they use agricultural lands in the Central Valley, especially during a drought.

Trinity Smith holding a pregnant pallid bat in the Mojave Desert. 
Photo Credit: J. Danielson Great Basin Institute.  

Since that time, I’ve helped with bat research in habitats ranging from abandoned mines to the redwoods. 

What do you do as an environmental scientist?

I partner with different landowning agencies – including Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, National Forest Service, state agencies and non-governmental organizations – and help them find mines that are hazardous to people.

My work first starts with inventorying sites and documenting abandoned mines from the surface. This is when we determine if these sites need further inspection. I have special training to enter abandoned mines with a partner and safety equipment. 

A Townsend’s big-eared bat exiting a mine portal.
Photo Credit: J. Danielson Great Basin Institute.  

While underground, I assess what wildlife live in these mines and what hazards may await human visitors.

If there are bats or other animals, we will recommend a remediation that balances human safety and wildlife habitat conservation. We try to get the best of both worlds.      

How are bats important for the environment? 

Well, there are over 1,400 species of bats all over the world; they are the second most abundant group of mammals.

In California, we have 25 species of bats.

A Townsend’s big eared bat maternity roost.
Photo Credit: J. Danielson Great Basin Institute.  

All of California’s bats are insectivorous, meaning they eat bugs and kill pests on our natural and working lands. Bats save farmers an estimated $3.7 billion in pest control services in the United States.

Why is bat habitat conservation so important?

Across the U.S., bats face many threats. Disease, wind turbines, roost destruction, climate change, and other threats have led to bat population declines. 

One of the current major threats, White Nose Syndrome (WNS), is a disease that spreads in large bat colonies. It is a fungus that grows on bats’ skin and wakes them during hibernation. WNS has killed millions of bats and is currently spreading west. We have found the fungus in Northern California but have not encountered any bats with WNS so far. Unfortunately, it may only be a matter of time until we find bats with the disease. 

If you find sick or dead bats, please report them to California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  

More commonly, bats are disturbed by people exploring roost sites (like mines and caves) during critical periods of their lifecycles, often without realizing it. This exploration can pressure bats to move or abandon roost sites. This is why AMLU’s work is so critical for protecting California’s bats.

Learn more about Bat Week and follow Department of Conservation’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more facts on our abandoned mine-dwelling friends.

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