In my opinion, the biggest danger posed by use of iNaturalist is location theft resulting in poaching. I am sure we have all used iNaturalist maps to decide locations to visit in order to find certain species. I do it all the time, and many of my best finds were at locations I went to because of iNaturalist. I don’t collect (except for scorpions, which I take occasionally for primarily research purposes, never to sell), but many people are heavy collectors who take to sell. My worry is that these people could (and almost certainly do) use iNaturalist for this purpose.
Luckily, iNaturalist has a built-in protection against this - private and obscured localities. However, this system is very flawed. Private localities in observations basically lead to useless records, as it is as bad as having an unknown locality. And obscured comes with it’s own problems - Often times, rare species’ localities are not obscured, for example this observation of a rare viper. This is especially common in new users. Other times, obscuring a locality doesn’t help at all, such as in this observation of a legless lizard, where there is only one small spot of suitable habitat in the entire obscured radius.
Here is a good example of what can happen due to open localities: Although they are not threatened in Mexico, Twin spotted rattlesnakes (Crotalus pricei) have a very small range in the US, only occuring in southeast Arizona. They are known to be heavily poached, and alongside most of Arizona’s montane rattlesnakes, they are becoming rarer and rarer. Despite this, there are 20+ un-obscured observations of this snake (out of 37 total) in Cochise county, Arizona. Twin Spotted Rattlesnakes are already in threat because of climate change (as temperatures rise, they have to go farther up the mountains, but they are already at the top, and increased wildfires could destroy habitat, trapping them in unfavorable areas), and combined with poaching, they could easily go extinct in the US, as there are only around 1000-4000 of them left in the country. Many other species are similarly threatened, including the other two montane rattlesnakes in Arizona, some American colubrids and lizards, and hundreds of other species from all countries.
I am not sure what should be done about this (which is why I didn’t put it in feature-requests). Here are some possibilities:
- Make the obscured rectangle bigger or another setting for a bigger rectangle
- Add many more species to the list of those with automatically obscured localities
- Make it possible for all or certain people (top 15 identifiers, for example) to change the status of an observation from open to obscured
- Make all sensitive-species localities private, but still make them show up in county/state/country checklists
Add your opinions, I would love to hear them. This is an important discussion to be having, because as naturalists, we don’t want to add to the already massive poaching problem.