Geoprivacy, Obscuring, and Auto Obscure Discussion

We have noticed several taxa that are considered Species of Concern and/or tracked by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program that are not being obscured in Colorado. For example, Couch’s Spadefoot toad has an IUCN status of Least Concern, a NatureServe California status of S2S3, and a NatureServe Colorado status of S1. It is automatically obscured in those two states but nowhere else. Canada Lynx, however, also has an IUCN status of Least Concern, but is listed on the US Endangered Species List as Threatened, it is listed as Endangered in the state of Colorado, and it has NatureServe Colorado status of S1. The only place in the US where iNat observations of Canada Lynx are automatically obscured is Vermont (also S1).

Why aren’t federally protected species automatically obscured at the national level? Does iNat follow any systematic scheme for determining which taxa should be automatically obscured in the US? There are numerous threads about the recent geoprivacy changes in Canada, but there appears to be less information about the process in the US.

Is “Flag for Curation” the best way to request a change to a taxon’s conservation status and geoprivacy? Or do you prefer that we send such requests to for investigation?


Please flag the taxon for curation. @carrieseltzer was referring to a possible bug where observations that should be obscured were apparently not being obscured by the system. But for requesting/discussing auto obscuration for a taxon, please make a flag.

If I’m using the site correctly, it looks like Couch’s spadefoot is not listed as a US federally protected species, correct? Canada Lynx are, however, so that would be a candidate for nation-wide obscuration.

As for “systematic scheme” - there really isn’t one. But in general a good question to start with is “will displaying the true locations of this taxon on iNaturalist be detrimental to this taxon?” Spadefoots, at least according to my modicum of knowledge, are threatened mostly by agriculture, habitat loss, etc. - not poaching or disturbance. So in my mind it’s questionable whether that taxon should be obscured, although I would definitely defer to experts and people on the ground who are working with it. But that’s a discussion to have on the taxon flag.


Thank you for the guidance!

Correct - I was using Couch’s spadefoot as an example of a taxon that does appear to be obscured as expected, according to NatureServe & Colorado Natural Heritage Program statuses, while Canada Lynx was an example of a taxon that is not being obscured “correctly”.

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Well, the criteria is not whether it is on a list, but whether there is risk to the species from sharing the true locations. For instance, species are sometimes listed due to introduced pathogens, development pressure, etc, and in those cases the obscuring does more harm than good. I am not sure what the case is with the lynx, if it seems like it should be obscured places that it isn’t the best route is making a flag as mentioned above.


I know it has been mentioned elsewhere, but I will restate it here. This is a perfect example of why the history of conservation status and obscuring needs to be available and visible. The Canada Lynx state entries should be there. They are from NatureServe, which the site supposedly centrally administers but no sign of them. Were they missed in the updates? Were they added and then removed because a decision was made it does not require obscuring? Were they not added because originally there was a global obscuring that was supposed to handle it which has since been changed/deleted?

Even when flagged it makes it very difficult for curators to make an informed decision lacking this background. @carrieseltzer


To provide the requested clarity, iNaturalist has never tried to enter all of the US state-level statuses from NatureServe. Only Canada has had extensive work with subnational NatureServe statuses, thanks to the close relationship through iNaturalist Canada.

The main way that national and subnational conservation statuses are entered on iNaturalist is when new countries join the iNaturalist Network. Since we don’t have something analogous at the state level in the US, the iNat statuses are a patchy reflection of the curator community activity and possibly some bulk request from a few states in the past.

I’ve created a template with a few examples and some instructions to facilitate formatting for anyone interested in adding more conservation statuses and associated taxon geoprivacy.


Thank you, this is helpful.


Thank you for this Carrie.

I just want to add some personal cautionary comments for anyone considering doing this. Please consider carefully whether an S1 species that just happens to reach the edge of its range in a particular state really needs to have it’s locations obscured or not. My opinion is that most such range-edge species will benefit more from from having their locations known instead of obscured, except for groups particularly vulnerable to poaching or harassment like some herps, orchids, cacti, etc.

More fundamentally, I question the premise (implied in the template) that an S1 status is “equivalent” to an IUCN status of “Critically Endangered” (or to any other IUCN status). IUCN statuses refer to global, range-wide endangerment, whereas S1 only implies that a species happens to be rare within an arbitrary subnational political jurisdiction. It may or may not be endangered there, but that can’t be assumed solely from an S1 status, even though it sometimes gets “translated” in those terms.

Again, just my opinions here, and end of speech for now :wink:


What is the expectation here then? Someone is adding dozens of flags about missing statuses.

If the expectation is that curators add them

  • the curator guide explicitly says all taxa with an entered state other than LC are to be obscured.
  • while G1 and S1 may not be equivalent, it is likely not equal to LC on many instances either.
  • while the curator guide does also say that taxa may be unobscured if criteria are met, with a small globally distributed (both geographically and area of taxonomic interest/expertise) of curators who are actually active in managing flags, it is really hard to tackle issues like this

It seems like a no win situation. We either enter the data and default obscure and wait for the anger about why stuff is now hidden or ignore the flags, possibly leave things at risk exposed and wait for the anger about why the site is not treating obscuring seriously.

And this dilemma is made worse by having no access to history on changes to the data and obscuring for the taxa. I know that curating tasks and upgrades rarely get focus for development work since they are not sexy and are seen (directly) by so few users, but I really urge the site to try and tackle this.


The user I reference has added 2 pages of flags of missing statuses. I will add the statuses and following site guidelines set them to obscured. Since there is no easy way to track the changes, I will list the species here should anyone wish to review them. The list will be incomplete until I finish. As it appears to be less than 50, I will need to do by hand.I lack the knowledge to know which if any of these are candidates for being left as unobscured, and even then, while I am unsure what constitutes a ‘community review’, I am certain that I alone do not meet that criteria.


The curator guide says

iNaturalist initially obscured the locations of all taxa with an IUCN equivalent status of Near Threatened or “worse”. However, in situations these species are thought to be in very little danger from exploitation or damage due to the public’s knowledge of the location of these species, curators are advised to change the taxon geoprivacy value associated with the conservation status from “obscured” to “open” on the taxon edit page. If the species is only threatened by development or climate change, not automatically obscuring them may be advised.

So I’m thinking a little more discussion may be in order first before we assume that this flagger is asking for all these species to be obscured. They may just want the statuses to be reflected on iNat, after seeing them for species in other states.

Also, it looks like they may be working their way through the alphabet, and just getting started. So maybe they should be referred to Carrie’s template first, to see if they can meet the threshold for a bulk upload, and where they can request what kind of geoprivacy they want for each species case-by-case.

Just adding a disclaimer for other curators reading this, the above is just an excerpt from the guide. In particular, be aware also of the part about

In Canada
In Canada, where iNaturalist has a member of the iNaturalist Network that oversees, NatureServe Canada’s Conservations Data Centers (CDCs), establish and maintain the conservation statuses for each province and territory (except Quebec) along with the automatically applied “taxon geoprivacy”.


Yeah let’s not obscure things just based on state status alone unless we have a reason to do so.


Further down in the same section it says that curators should be prepared to justify why any unobscuring is done.

The issue here as I see it is

  • species classified as up to and including CR do not have that entered (I’m talking here above and beyond this specific set of flags but large numbers of them especially outside North America)
  • it further turns out the site has never made any attempt to upload these data
  • we have no clue if there is any history of them being added/removed etc in the past

I 100 percent agree that things that dont need to be obscured should not be. But that being said, when is the simple baseline work of getting an accurate accounting of regional or even national outside North America status levels entered going to be done?

It is somewhere between embarrassing and hugely concerning that species listed as CR etc have not been accounted for and at least reviewed.

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Having a change history and a comment field that curators can use to document the reason for each change would be very useful. I’ve unobscured 2 or 3 California plant species in the past day that were solely obscured based on NatureServe Global rankings that are 20-30 years old and for which there is almost no rationale. In none of these cases is the species listed on the California Native Plant Society rare plant index (or any by any government authority). Any threats to these species are due to habitat loss and climate change, not poaching.

I would have been very happy to record all of that in a change note as part of the Edit Taxon process, but there’s no opportunity to do that. As a result, I’m concerned that the change will just get reversed at some point, or that someone will trace it to me and take issue with my actions.

Some way to document and track these changes would be a start. If we’re able to also have a workable process to propose and approve changes (or just clear guidelines to make those decisions ourselves) that would be a bonus.


You definitely make valid points, and I’m not disagreeing with any of the needs that you point out.

I think the site has now provided a pathway for getting this done. As with so many things on the site, it will be community driven.

Agreed, which is why I would rather we not obscure things initially without a clear request and reason to do so, either our own, or from someone’s flag. The Curator Guide gives us that latitude.

I agree it would hugely helpful to have a built-in way to track this information systematically. Unless and until that infrastructure gets developed, though, we are left with the taxon flag system. Hard to get people to use consistently, but at least the site has made it easier to review all past flags on a taxon. So until something better comes along, I suggest that we use taxon flags to document status and/or geoprivacy changes, including when initiated/implemented by curators. Even when it is a no-brainer change, still leave and resolve a flag to record the action.


This is the one part I have some concerns with. At some point this backlog of missing data needs to be dealt with. My reading of the curator guide (if someone from the site wants to give an official rebuttal etc great) is this:

  • the default state of a threatened species is obscured.
  • if it can be demonstrated and documented that doing so provides benefits and/or no risks then this may be reset to open for a specific species
  • the onus of proof is to demonstrate why a threatened species should be open, not the reverse.

What message does it send if we know a species is threatened and and not documented in our data and choose not to acknowledge it and at least review that ?

yes, but does ‘threatened’ apply to edge of range species that happen to get state/province status? Why obscure things on the edge of something’s range, when there’s no collection risk, but do so only when the range happens to intersect with only a small part of an arbitrary political boundary? That doesn’t make sense. If you’re just talking about globally threatened species, that’s different.

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I don’t think it is an issue if 90 percent of the listed species end up as open for these or any other reasons. I just think that the process to review and document that should be a requirement.

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to be clear we are talking about things like a super common oak species that clips a state line in its range here, not a rare orchid only found in one bog.

Please don’t go on an obscuring binge. I understand your frustration with this system and have had frustrations too. But the lack of documentation means you may be undoing a lot of other people’s work anyway, and obscuring edge of range common species is really harmful for conservation planning and climate change tracking, for instance.

In the very least please leave the Vermont auto obscuring alone. Our NHI has already gone through and recommended which species should be obscured and if you change it you will undo all of that work. I understand you don’t like the current system, but this is something everyone on iNat relies on to work, so I don’t think unilateral action is appropriate here, at least not without staff go-ahead.

The concern I have is that there is no evidence any of these have been previously reviewed and determined as appropriate for being open. The site has noted above they have never made an effort to integrate these data for NatureServe and this is certainly true for ex North America national Red Lists etc.

Yes the ‘hotspot’ areas of most heavy use for the site like parts of the US, Canada, NZ, ZA have probably done decent reviews, but large parts of the world have not.

When or how would you propose that this backlog be dealt with and the species lists get documented and reviews done as to which are appropriate for obscured and which for open?

Were i still living in Europe and knew this situation I dont think I would be a site user because I’d be concerned the site is not taking the protection of sensitive species seriously. For example I recently finished updating part of a national red list for a European list where they maintain a list of specific species that by law it is illegal to disclose the locations of. That should not have been pending still in 2020 on the site.

No one wants to see species that dont need it get obscured. But when or how do we tackle the ones that need it ? Waiting for a flag to get raised is not a very proactive solution and anyone who would abuse the current situation is certainly not going to put one in.