Mass conservation status imports: Please do not auto-obscure non-threatened taxa that are not being targeted by people

After the last round of automated IUCN conservation status updates, quite a few plant taxa in my area have had their geoprivacy automatically set to obscured, even though many of them are not listed as threatened by the IUCN.

I have just finished systematically going through all the taxa in my region (Tasmania), and have found that:

  • Some, but not all Near-Threatened (NT) taxa have had their geoprivacy set to obscured.
  • Some, but not all Vulnerable (VU) taxa have had their geoprivacy set to open.

For most taxa listed as NT, I am invariably seeing that the main threats are land clearing, development, eg:

threats

Is there a consistent policy on obscuration in automated imports? What determines whether a taxon is auto-obscured or not?

Can I ask, why are taxa that are not threatened (NT is not a category of threatened) having their coordinates automatically obscured in these updates? I would like to strongly argue that they shouldn’t.

Even for taxa that are in threatened categories such as VU, I would argue they shouldn’t be auto-obscured unless the main reason they are under threat is collecting, trampling, or other forms of damage caused by people knowing where they grow.

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I don’t think that even all critically endangered taxa should be obscured if there is no threat from the anthropological related things that you’ve listed. E.g. in my area Rhodamnia, Decaspermum, Lenwebbia, etc (all in Myrtaceae) now have some kind of status (probably critically endangered) only because of myrtle rust. I don’t think their locations should be obscured because of that – in fact I think they should be open. As for near threatened species I don’t think their locations should be obscured either, especially if the primary, or only, threat is habitat loss. Surely it would be more beneficial if the locations of these taxa were open so that if the habitat, for example, is subject to development we know the taxon is there.

I have left many Queensland Orchidaceae taxa obscured even when they’re not at all rare or in any danger of extinction (they were originally flagged as endangered, presumably because a list was imported by staff, not a curator). But I don’t feel comfortable changing the geoprivacy to open because they were originally obscured by staff. I’ll correct the status though :) Orchidaceae is probably not a good example because many are actually targeted for collection, but the point remains: if giving the location of a threatened species does not increase the risk to that species then why obscure it? And if giving the location actually helps protect the taxon (because we then know it’s there) then obscuring the location is doing more damage than good.

So, I’d like clearer guidelines/policy as well

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Here is the official policy:
https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/curator+guide#geoprivacy

I’m not sure how the imports work, but I imagine it would be hard to make them match this case-by-case basis.

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I thought your questions were already discussed and clarified starting here:
https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/updating-iucn-red-list-conservation-statuses/25712/40

I think virtually everyone agrees with you here. In the thread linked above there is a process laid out for creating and documenting “deviations” from default geoprivacy (at the global IUCN level). It does unfortunately involve manually adding flags (and links to those flags in the status descriptions). But once those are in place, it becomes much easier to automate future updates to IUCN statuses without undoing existing deviations from default taxon geoprivacy.

And yes, unfortunately the long-standing default on iNat has been to obscure things “Near Threatened” (NT) or worse, until manually opened. If you are asking to change that default going forward, that might be appropriate for a submission to #feature-requests.

Also, you are probably already aware that local status/geoprivacy settings now take precedence over global or higher-level settings (down to State/Province administrative levels). So a quick fix could always be to add a status to the taxon that applies to just Tasmania, for example, and leave taxon geoprivacy set to Open for that place. But in the long-run, still better I think to establish the needed deviations at the global/IUCN status level.

The curator guide is a bit behind the times, I think, with respect to the new process for automating IUCN status updates.

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Yes, I am asking that auto-imports of external conservation statuses don’t force-obscure the geoprivacy of taxa, focusing on those not actually listed as threatened (NT is not threatened).

Also questioning why the auto-import seemed to only auto-obscure some taxa and not others.

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Since there are particular concerns about Australia here, I’m tagging @p_brenton and @peggydnew since they have been working on some of these sensitive species lists at the sub national level too.

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This rapidly turns into a mine field. There have been extensive discussion already on the issue of observation obscuring, so I won’t rehash those, but there are several other points worth mentioning.

One is that species are facing a wide range of threats, so a global policy to not auto-obscure NT or V potentially opens a large number of species locations up that might better be kept hidden. This means that for species to NT and V species to be kept out of the obscuring process they have to be individually evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Going along with this, IUCN evaluations often happen infrequently, for any given species, so during the time between species evaluations (sometimes decades) so the actual status may well be very different that what what the Red List states due to changes in population in the intervening time. This happens often.

Another common issue, is that species may have one Red List rating, but a very different country rating (or smaller administrative unit), and as a result even a LC species may need to be obscured in specific countries, let alone a NT or V rated species. An example of this is the Burmese python (Python bivittatus), which is listed as V on the Red List, but which is regionally classified as Endangered at the national level in several of the countries within its native range.

It’s a complicated issue and, as much as obscured observations make my job more difficult at times, I prefer to keep the observations for everything but LC auto-obscured.

we literally have a listing for white ash, but not being able to map it accurately ruins all the emerald ash borer tracking and monitoring projects. So yes, it is better to start out with obscuring and unobscure on a case by case basis but always obscuring all but LC is a horrible idea in my opinion, at least for plants.

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You all make very good, thought-provoking points. Yet, I think the iNat policy lets out animals and plants that are better obscured for everyone’s sake

E.g., coyotes are not considered that threatened, but they are harassed. People hunt them and put out poison for them under the misguided notion they are pests. IMO, coyotes are the local pest patrol as they are good hunters for rats and gophers (little critters which have pretty epic impacts on my neighborhood). I think such activities would justify auto-obscuring coyotes on the points that

  • Elimination strategies like hunting (often, still with lead) and poison are bad for the environment and other animals in the vicinity
  • Coyotes mostly focus their efforts on small mammals that tend to be over-abundant due to a lack of predators

I also note that the few times I’ve observed a fungi, Chicken of the Woods, it got harvested by someone within days. If I see anymore, I’ll be sure to obscure them - I want others to be able to observe them, too.

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Please stay on topic everyone.

I am referring specifically to automated, large-scale imports of external data, and asking for non-threatened taxa to not be globally auto-obscured.

NT is near-threatened, NOT threatened.

I don’t care abour coyotes, and I don’t care about burmese pythons. I care about global statuses being applied to large numbers of taxa during an automated import, resulting in their obscuration regardless of merit. Out of 27 NT plant taxa in my area that were auto-imported from IUCN, NONE had issues or threats that warranted their obscuration. I can’t imagine the numbers are globally significantly different. Please check some actual data before commenting.

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But local lists can still be active if globally species is not obscured. And maybe iNat could spend more time on that, as really it’s only a few selected countries where such lists are in use.
e.g. We got Lapwing out obscuration, but Black-tailed Godwit is still obscured, while it’s a hunting species.
Maybe it’s ok for you, but other users 1. don’t want to have tons of their observations being shown in random spots, 2. don’t see any good in obscuring taxa that are declining for reasons not linked to direct human impact 3. people can have no idea at all why status is up.
There’re VU species that are not obscured, e.g. Long-tailed duck, whats the point of obscuring all NT?

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I also allude to this in my original post:

These also had no data on anyone having edited the conservation status, so I assume it was automatically applied.

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There’s definitely a tendency to be too rigorous on obscuring taxa. I’ve manually unobscured a couple which are just clearly having zero benefit from obscuration. But there are too many cases to keep up with.

I disagree though with some (unknown % of) people that “leaning on the side of caution” is warranted. Obscuring has consequences which in particular causes difficulties with exporting data to other sites. If a species is actually considered threatened by poaching/disturbance, that sounds fine. But most of these species are not.

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I fully agree that unless taxa are threatened by collection, etc. then locations should not be obscured. See Current Best Practices for Generalizing Sensitive Species Occurrence Data at https://doi.org/10.15468/doc-5jp4-5g10

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Seriously? That’s verging on ….insensitive, if not offensive. Is supporting your specific agenda all that you tolerate as a valid part of the discussion?

Coyotes are not threatened? In parts of this country the discussion often goes:

“I saw a coyote on my way to school today.”
“Oh, and did you get it?”

Then, the means used to combat them end up poisoning many other animals .

It would seem like the world may benefit if you would broaden your views .

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I am not a fan of coyote ‘hunting’ but i find it hard to believe that obscuring coyote data on iNat would do more good than harm. I don’t think there are too many people on iNat into recreational coyote killing, coyotes are ubiquitous within most of their range, they are highly mobile (it isn’t going to be there a week later to go and shoot), and honestly, coyotes need the PR associated with being shared on iNat more than they need more secrecy. It also doesn’t seem to me that iNat should really be in the business of auto obscuring to prevent or hinder legal hunting (whether recreational coyote killing should be legal is a valid question but one i don’t think iNat is really in the best place to weight in on.

That all being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you personally choosing to obscure any and all coyote sightings you add to iNat.

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@charlie wow, is my face red!

Clearly, I am miscommunicating pretty badly here to be so poorly understood. :confounded:

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Yes, coyotes is not a threatened taa, this topic isn’t about it, if you wanna “save” each potential illegal hunting victim, then you can obscure everything you find, because I can tell you, that everything can be killed illegaly or dig out.
Also people don’t have to care about all possible taxa or lie just to not hurt someone’s feelings (though it’s a question why they should be hurt, it’s a specific topic).

I pretty much agree on this. I don’t think many people use iNat for illegal hunting, and many coyotes travel very large distances anyways. Personally, however, I like to obscure somewhat rarer reptiles in my area, even if they aren’t threatened in hopes of their populations not being disturbed.

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I think it’s a good move!