Should iNat obscure birds not hidden in eBird?

I personally think that far too many species are obscured on iNaturalist. This is frustrating because if an observation is obscured when it does not need to be, this can often cause more harm than good. But today I specifically want to talk about obscured birds. iNat seems to auto-obscure A LOT of different birds. Most of them have no need to need to be obscured, bu also, there is no point in obscuring them. Let me explain. Here in Wisconsin, American Black Duck is obscured (see https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/39432869). While you may not know from this observation where it was taken, I could just go over to the eBird map (https://ebird.org/map/ambduc?neg=true&env.minX=&env.minY=&env.maxX=&env.maxY=&zh=false&gp=false&ev=Z&mr=1-12&bmo=1&emo=12&yr=all&byr=1900&eyr=2020) and see every sighting of the species in the area - so if I was looking for American Black Duck and I couldn’t see where it was on iNat, eBird could still show me exactly where American Black Ducks are.

So really, as long as eBird exists, iNat has no reason to obscure bird species other than those that are hidden in eBird (https://support.ebird.org/en/support/solutions/articles/48000803210-sensitive-species-in-ebird). I personally think that we should follow eBird and obscure ONLY those bird populations hidden there, and possibly a few others if we fell there is a good reason to.

Thoughts?

4 Likes

Obscured observations are still displayed in reasonable proximity to the siting location on the maps. It is only the observations set as Private (end user choice) where the locale May be more opaque.

A lot of us obscure all observations taken near home for privacy reasons.

1 Like

I understand why people obscure observations. I am talking about auto-obscuring here, which I believe should only be done in circumstances where a species is actually in danger from their location being publicly displayed.

5 Likes

No, it’s not reasonable, they show up in different regions if they were close to the border, they don’t show on the territory of national parks and other zones made specifically for protecting these species, thus making data much less usable.
And old observations often lack any data that could be used by poachers, I have Lapwings observations from fields that have buildings instead of them for almost 10 years. And if I agree with Lapwings being obscured I don’t see a reason to obscure Common Pochard which is a common bird, open for hunt here, and having worldwide declining trend doesn’t make it anything but very abundant now.

2 Likes

I personally think too many species are obscured as well. I think birds are a good example, since many aren’t really the subject of poaching/hunting anyways.

On the other hand, I know people advocate for obscuring more herp species than are obscured because some of them are vulnerable to poaching/collecting even if they aren’t officially vulnerable.

I personally think it’s a bit of a tough job for iNat to make these decisions. They originally went with IUCN categories, but it is now a more ad hoc approach where different species can be obscured or not. You can flag specific taxa for curation with regards to their geoprivacy status (see discussion here: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/why-are-some-threatened-vulnerable-and-endangered-species-locations-being-unobscured/12876/2)

There’s lots of other posts discussing some of these issues including with herps: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/danger-of-locations-on-inaturalist/6602
How they should apply to invasive/exotic species: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/how-to-handle-global-conservation-statuses-for-non-native-taxa/7118
Disadvantages in trying to use data for research: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/access-to-data-for-sensitive-and-obscured-observations/1716/4
etc.

I think the general approach to work from IUCN categories is a good one as it errs on the side of caution (obscuring species that may be in danger). As much as I think iNat’s data is useful scientifically (and agree that obscured and private data are way less useful), it isn’t the primary mission to generate great data. But I can also see a strong case for de-obscuring many species, like birds, as you say here.

It would be interesting to hear from active curators who work with birds about this. One downside to the process of individually flagging species to discuss obscuring/deobscuring is how much work it is, but if you can find a good outside source to follow (like eBird), this definitely wouldn’t be as much work. I am not very experienced with birds, but on the face of it, following eBird’s categories seems reasonable, since there is such a strong community there. eBird seems like they have a pretty strong process for determining which species are sensitive and obscuring those data (source: https://ebird.org/news/sensitive-species-in-ebird). The obscuring seems similar to iNat’s (with a bounding box).

6 Likes

I have flagged several bird taxa that I don’t think need to be obscured, I have never gotten a response. Even if I did, that’s it’s too much of a job to flag almost every obscured bird taxa, especially for someone who isn’t a curator.

2 Likes

At the same time iNat is not working with countries red books/lists at all, so thousands of locally endangered species’ spots are accessible. If you really want to protect them it’s a way to go.

A non-bird example of how extreme the auto-obscure can be is the obscuring of Aoudad (Barbary Sheep) records in the US. It is Vulnerable in its native range in Africa, so yes should be obscured there but in the US it is almost a pest in some areas.

1 Like

Yes, I know all about how ridiculous the auto-obscuration can be - that’s (partly) why I’m requesting this.

I totally agree on the invasive species issue…there are multiple situations like this where a species is threatened in its native range, but common in its invasive range (and iNat locations would potentially be of research value or for targeted removal even).

I think in general the issue is that obscuring species piecemeal is a ton of work that is done mostly by volunteer curators (would probably take a full time staff member to handle this).

The IUCN status solution was a good place to start because that info could be accessed and brought into the system relatively easily. I don’t know if there’s a way to do that with eBird’s classifications, but I would guess with a potential change this big, it’s something staff would need to weigh in on.

1 Like

I would argue this is conflating the issue of whether a given species should be obscured at all with the issue of whether descendant places should inherit the geoprivacy setting of their ancestor place. Aoudad is already set to Open for the United States, it’s just that the globally obscured setting is overriding the country-level open status.

More discussion here.

2 Likes

There’s also an older thread about this at https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/geoprivacy-obscuring-and-auto-obscure-discussion/457/46b . I think in general it’s best to start with a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach but at times things have been obscured when obscuring clearly does more harm than good. Mostly we’ve been able to get these reobscured after discussions with the community and iNat admin, but in some cases iNat has tried working with external conservation organizations and results there have been varied as sometimes these external organizations don’t really want anything shared, for various reasons.
To me, obscuring black duck doesn’t seem necessary, but I’m not a bird expert. That being said I am not that well versed in e-Bird and it is possible they have some things not obscured that SHOULD be.

1 Like

I know birds and very, and I know that nearly all birds that are obscured on iNat do not need to be. Maybe there are some birds in eBird that should be obscured but are not, but even if there are there’s no point to obscuring them on iNat, because anyone who wants to know where they are can just go over to eBird.

So, in my opinion, iNat should follow eBird in what birds are obscured and where they are obscured.

1 Like

iNat affiliates do have control over auto obscuration in some places. Auto obscuration in Canada is done by provincial Conservation Data Centres. Here’s an extremely long thread talking about how this was implemented on iNat.

https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/updates-to-conservation-statuses-in-progress-in-canada/608

In some, but not all.

maybe where you live. In Israel, birds are poached all the time. For feathers, meat, pets, etc.

Are these people actively seeking out certain bird species? Or are they taken opportunistically?

it’s a mix. much worse in Palestine / the West Bank than in Israel where the species are actively protected.

eBird does hide several species of birds in Israel and all those plus a few more in Palestine.

1 Like

I personally see no reason to remove obscured species. It is true that I may obscure an observation and you can look up my ebird profile and find the exact location no problem but I do think there’s a difference between a general location (such as 5 mile stretch of road) compared to a GPS location. I am also one of those people though that if you want to find it, I am willing to forward more specific information as others have done for me. We just want to keep locations secret to the general public to minimize disturbance.

3 Likes