I’ve read several threads on the topic of geo-privacy, (the most pertinent one closed, I think, last September) but, so far as I can tell, this issue has not been resolved. I offer a perspective here in reference to rare plants in New Jersey. Much of this may have broader implications. I think my perspective is close to that of cmcheatle.
All taxa that are listed as “Endangered Plant Species” and “Plant Species of Concern” by the NJ Natural Heritage Program are on that list because a professional judgment has been made about a level of imperilment for the respective species within the state of New Jersey. (Taxa ranked SX, presumed to be extirpated, may be considered in a separate category.)
The “S” (state) rank, for taxa on this list, is a very pertinent level of imperilment. That is to say, although the “N” (national) rank and the “G” (global) ranks are certainly important considerations, from the standpoint of New Jersey protecting its biodiversity, we need to pay attention to and make decisions taking the “S” rank into consideration. Many taxa that are rare in NJ are rare only because they are at the edge of their range, but this category of rarity is by no means one to be dismissed or taken lightly. (Ecological arguments are available.)
An “S” rank is an indication of a degree of imperilment, not merely an indication of rarity. In other words, if a taxon has a rank that qualifies it to be on the list, it’s because a level of threat has been determined. It’s possible that some of those ranks need to be revised, but one would need to provide evidence for such an argument, not merely an opinion.
Publishing location data for rare plants has several potential threats. For example: (1) Over-collection of entire plants or parts, including propagules, by unscrupulous, ignorant, or careless collectors. (2) Trampling by careless visitors. (3) Deposition of disease vectors by careless visitors. (4) Deliberate eradication by developers who don’t want the hassle of T&E species issues. (5) Creation of trails that may encourage increased deer browsing. Probably other direct threats could be added.
Additionally, our imperiled species are typically found in rather well-preserved ecological communities (comparatively speaking), many of which are imperiled in their own right, and many of which harbor other imperiled taxa. People visiting a site to see, collect data on, etc. one rare species may be totally unaware of the impacts they are having on the ecological community itself and the other rare species present.
This is not to say that these threats apply to every rare plant. It’s entirely possible that some, perhaps many of the taxa on the Heritage list, would NOT face increased threat if their exact locations are published.
However, we don’t have a ready means of evaluating, for each individual taxon, its degree of susceptibility to these threats. That being the case, it would be hard to argue that it is generally safe to publish exact locations, or that we should only obscure when we have demonstrable proof, on a case by case basis, that obscuring is good.
All of this leads me to recommend that we adopt a mechanism, as a default, to obscure, rather than publish the exact locations of imperiled species, as determined by the “S” rank.