Is it ever ok to upload Endangered Species?

My state’s natural heritage program has an iNat project that I joined and they can see the coordinates for my iNat records that have been automatically obscured or obscured by me.


Entomology is not my profession, yet I’ve published papers, I’ve discovered new taxa, and I’ve been places the professionals have not.

Esteemed Robert Michael Pyle just published a paper in News of LepSoc in which he laments restrictions on citizen scientists. I think suggesting that “only professionals” get access to info falls into that category, and ultimately is detrimental to the advancement of science.


I have to say that I am of two minds about this. On one hand, I can see the point: inadvertent trampling of plants, inadvertently scaring wildlife off the nest.

But on the other hand, it can sometimes seem like straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. I just read an article about how to behave appropriately around marine life, and it advised not even collecting empty shells because other organisms can use them. Meanwhile, we have countries and commercial interests seriously discussing things like ocean floor mining, whether or not to increase catch limits, and the siting of oil platforms and port facilities.


An EN beach plant I didn’t know anything about was automatically placed miles out to sea. If researchers want details I can provide it if they ask but no one has. I presume that the data is useful in this form.

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It won’t obscure the other observations from that day but it will obscure the exact date of the observation so that people can’t look at your observations from the same day and time to figure out where you were.


From another perspective that complicates the question: what’s endangered?

I just posted up the first two observations of Papilio erskinei, an endemic on a small island.

Do a google search first of Papilio erskinei, then bald eagle. Which do you think is more endangered?


Thank you for raising that important distinction. In the case I’m thinking of I’m sure they’re good, and will not post. But this is a super important point, and I appreciate the comment.

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Thank you! I always search with several terms, and find both of these things to be true. I really appreciate your support for keeping discussions open. There are always new people and new twists.

You can choose to trust specific users with obscured coordinates, either in the context of a project for which they are an administrator, or by adding them to a list on your profile.


This already exists, you can choose who to share with. I do caution you that academic credentials do NOT mean someone won’t poach, though. I think that stuff happens more often than people like to think. And as others have mentioned, sharing data with everyone (when it isn’t a worse risk than benefit) can be very valuable.

And as others have said, it certainly isn’t true that there is robust monitoring of rare species. Especially regional rare and edge of range type species. For these there’s usually nothing much at all unless it’s a large charismatic animal.


That’s an excellent point. In addition, the species in question here was also a major tourist attraction, which funds conservation in a country with 25 percent of their acreage devoted to national parks. But I still feel uncomfortable about the carbon footprint of travel, which I’ve not done for many years for that reason.

There is no red light–green light for conservation. Increasing love for and engagement for nature is super valuable. And my partner agrees and calls what you discuss the paper cup problem. I worry about every action I take with respect to packaging and energy use while we’re setting the planet on fire and open-pit mining coal all around me. I still think it’s important to do it. And teaching the consideration and practice of treating nature with respect is still powerful, IMO.

That everyone here cares is huge in itself, and I hear you. I did travel. I did take photos. And I did share many observations. It’s that the species is a major target for poachers and restricted in its range that gave me pause.

I have the exact same concern, but I didn’t think about it when I first started posting, so I’m really glad you brought it up. I don’t know if iNat can do what you’re suggesting, but one thing I do in the meantime is obscure the location for all observations that are from the same trip as an endangered species observation. It’s often obvious from the photos and time stamp that they all go together. This works better for the birds I usually post (they fly so an approximate location makes sense) than a plant or small-territory organism, but SedgeQueen’s comment is really helpful on reporting endangered plants. Thanks for thinking about and caring about this issue when you post and for sharing this suggestion.

That’s great to know, but how would we know what people to share with, and how would researchers know to ask if they were hidden?

Until I understand how that would work, I support @russell_engelman’s suggestion. If someone were working on a project needing a particular plant’s location and distribution, they could request access for that species from admins of some kind? I don’t know how that would work either, tbh.

FYI, my background is in ornithology and birding. I have known of rare birds that were literally chased to death. Definitely not all birders, but it only takes a few.

My (bird) observations are often obscured to the state level when I enter specific coordinates. I assume the same thing. The location of the observation is still there, just not visible to the iNat community or public generally. Something to bear in mind is that anyone outside iNat can see our observations, which is one reason I asked about this. When iNat won’t automatically obscure species I think are sensitive to disturbance or exploitation, I do so myself.

Just a general reminder that it is possible to respond to multiple other users in one post on a thread via quotes. This helps keep the thread cleaner, but Discourse will also give warnings and then slow down posts from individual users if they make too many posts in a row in a thread or otherwise dominate the conversation.

I wasn’t claiming that this was a solution for all needs (and certainly it is limiting in some ways) – merely pointing out what functionality exists.

For users who are concerned about their observations of certain species being misused, the option to “trust” certain users allows them to personally decide who they are comfortable sharing sensitive information with. This might be based on information that the researcher provides in their profile, interactions with them on iNat, or by being contacted by the researcher. I agree that the feature to “trust” users is rather hidden, but iNat users already have the possibility of contacting observers (e.g., via private message) if they need more information about an observation for their research. “Trusting” just streamlines this process.

As has been noted in this thread, just because someone is a researcher (or claims to be one), this doesn’t automatically guarantee that they will use the information responsibly – so some users might not be happy with a solution where any researcher can access the coordinates of their obscured observations without their permission. There are also questions related to how the identity of researchers is to be verified, and what credentials are considered sufficient: Do they need to be associated with a research institution? Hold an academic title? Should they be granted access for all obscured observations, or just taxa within their field of expertise? Does this include observations obscured for privacy reasons rather than risk to the species in question?


Yeah, i really think it’s a bad idea to allow ‘researchers’ access to obscured data, among all the reasons noted above, i often obscure for landowner privacy rather than rarity/poaching risk, and most landowners i talk to wouldn’t want that obscured data shared with someone just because they are affiliated with a research organization. There are other sites similar to iNat that do share that way and i won’t ever use them, at least not for things i want to obscure.


Many US states and Canadian provinces have Natural Heritage Programs (or something with a similar name) that are part of the NatureServe Network. These programs collect data on rare species and use it for various purposes such as environmental review, habitat modeling, and research. iNaturalist observations can be very useful since we can’t be everywhere. Here is an umbrella project with all of the projects administered by the NatureServe Network Programs.

In Nevada, iNaturalist has helped us document some large range extensions for rare plants and I use it frequently to see when rare plants are blooming so I don’t need to drive several hours to check. Some of our power users are agency staff and researchers who use iNat as an easy way to post new finds and get confirming IDs.

The Heritage programs already have rules in place to protect data privacy such as data license agreements, obscured data layers, and reviewing the credentials of people who request exact locations. The exact details vary by state.

If you join one of these projects and it’s set up to ask for your true coordinates, you can choose how to share observations with the project under “My Membership” on the project page. Choosing the third option allows the project admins to see any of your observations that are obscured by taxon geoprivacy settings but not ones that you set as obscured individually. This protects observations that you want to obscure due to issues like private property.


I have a personal anecdotic story.
Last year a student of mine sent me a photo of a rare and protected plant in an unknown location. I immediately went on the field and shared my obs on iNat. 24h later mails came in my box and researchers, environmental managers and policy makers asked me to confirm the information and the location. During 5 days (the flowering time is only one week) a lot of people gone to this location and helped to delimitate the perimeter and allowed to discover 2 small new locations very close to the main one.
Without the iNat sharing, the mapping would have need one year more to start ! Furthermore, the species is not threatened by harvesting or trampling. So this collaborative map was a really good thing for the species knowledge.
Unfortunately, during this time, the species has been blurred automatically for the French territory after activating the iNat option… I don’t really know what to think about, but I am afraid this will slow down the collaborative effort on mapping this new location, now the biggest one for the country !