Some observations don't show up in projects - is poaching *really* the concern?


Not sure if this is a bug or not, but I’m finding that when I look at the total observations for the project I manage for my research area I find that there are often a significant number of them missing. Sometimes I can find them on the map, but not in the list of observations, other times they are missing from the map as well.

This includes my own observations.

Many of them are Vulnerable, Endangered, of Critically Endangered (which have locations obscured) but not all of them. Even for species where the location is obscured I’d still expect to see them in the list of species, but I’m not only missing some of those, but other species as well.

Any ideas what’s going on?



are the uncertainty circles larger than, or projecting significantly beyond the boundaries of the area the project is set to? Those won’t populate into collection projects any more.



@earthknight it’s difficult to diagnose an issue out without specific details. Can you please provide the project’s URL and the URL of an observation you think should be in the project but is not?



The problem @charlie describes (observation excluded if uncertainty bubble projects outside the place boundary) is significant for small properties, as I’ve discovered on a couple of small-preserve projects. One half-baked solution is to make the “place” boundary bigger than the actual preserve, adding a buffer around it. Another is to search out individual observations and manually shrink their uncertainty bubble. Not great, but sometimes a help.

It’s a bigger problem to exclude vulnerable species whose location is automatically obscured. What if the point of a project is to document the important biodiversity of a property, including an endangered plant or snake? @earthknight referred to including them on a “list,” but I don’t understand how that works. Can someone point me to that?



Yeah, we ran into a real problem with our Montpelier bioblitz last summer - Montpelier is rather small, but not small enough that one can find an obscured species based on knowing it was in town. But none of the auto obscured species would show up on the collection project, nor would any of the observation on private land where landowners asked for obscuring. It was a last minute panic, kind of, and made look really dumb because i had assured them it would work fine, and the change sprung on us with not long to plan for it. Ultimately we created a ‘traditional’ project for all the obscured things and then an umbrella project that combined that with the collection project. But that was a pain and they had to be manually added. It’s a significant issue and there’s been an unfortuante trend to add some additional things to the auto obscure which don’t make any sense to obscure, so combining those creates a real issue. I think the current solution isn’t the best one and hope something better can come up.

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Actually that would solve my problem for the small preserves, as it was only two or three species. Thanks for the suggestion.



For the record, here’s our explanation for obscuration/large accuracy circles and small places:

And yes, the best solution would be a traditional project and umbrella, like @charlie suggested.



when it’s just the few species that are obscured due to special status, it’s not bad to do that. When you have a ton of obscured common stuff too, for instance if there are private land issues, then it gets harder…



This is the project:

Examples of a species with observations that sometimes show and often don’t show are: Tiwaripotamon edostilus

Here is one of my observations of it: An observation which is currently not showing on either the map or the species list. There are at least three observations of this that I know of, yet none of them show in either case.

Not having them on the map is understandable, but not having them in the species list is not acceptable.

This area is full of endemic and rare species and part of the purpose for this project is so that my conservation NGO can do a better job of determining distribution and populations of the species present, especially those that are rare or otherwise under-represented.

Similarly, the Cat Ba Leopard Gecko (Goniurosaurus catbaensis) observations are also not showing in the species list. Same with the Cat Ba Langur (Trachypithecus policephalus), The Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) ( that I nearly stepped on in front of my office, and a number of other species.

Don’t have them on the map, but please make sure that they do show up in the species list for the area.

In the other observations of the Tiwaripotamon edostilus species ( ( (as well as mine) I can see that they’ve been removed from my project even though their obscured areas fall primarily inside the project. It appears that if even a tiny portion of their obscured area falls out of the project area the entire observation is removed. That’s backwards from how it should be.

At the very least I should be able to manually add observations to my project in addition to them being auto added if they’re within the borders of the project. Apparently with the new format manually adding is no-longer an option.



This might make more sense as a feature request because i don’t think it is a bug (it’s intentional). However, this messed up one of our biblitzes too and i think there needs to be a better way to deal with this so i agree, something else needs to be figured out.



That’s a completely backwards way of using the obscuring box. Should be the other way around (or at least based on a percentage of overlap).

Additionally, having to do two projects to accomplish one thing is really, really foolish. When I made this project before the geofenced ones were even an option and had to switch it over to the more current version because too many observations were being missed and there was no way to import a bunch of observations from different people in bulk.

The changes that iNat is making are taking this from being a useful and potentially powerful conservation tool and turning it into little more than a personal life-list collection toy.

Even if the observations are not shown in the map (which is fine), they should be listed in the project species list. By removing all of the VU, EN, and CR species (of which there are a lot in my area, but little data about them) you make it so that we cannot get information concerning presence/absence, ranges, changes in range (vital for environmental change tracking and a variety of other purposes), habitat use, etc which then means that we cannot use the iNat data to better plan conservation management. Additionally, by not including them in the list of species present you remove one of the more powerful tools iNat provides in getting politicians, other NGOs, the National Parks, and businesses to take action and engage. The very species you are removing from projects are the very species that both need the most conservation assistance and are the species that stakeholders and supporting agencies look at when making their decisions concerning what areas and conservation projects to support.

By making the the changes to iNat that have been made you’re actively hurting conservation, no-longer supporting it.



@earthknight I think this is getting off topic, as Charlie said. This is thread in the Bug Report category, and what you reported is not a bug but an intended effect of an iNaturalist decision. If you have a specific proposal for how to address it, please create a Feature Request, or if you want to start a constructive discussion about obscuration and places, please start a topic in General.



I initially put in the Bug category because it seemed too much of a problem for it to be an intentional feature.

It was only after the conversation took place that it was revealed that this is actually an intentional (‽) aspect of the new version of iNat and not the bug it appeared to be.



@tiwane should we just edit the category to something else or merge it with my other geoprivacy thread? For what it’s worth i agree with most of this and i think a lot of others will have issues too especially with the (hopefully temporary) explosion of number of obscured species in Canada and other changes to geoprivacy proposed. My old approach of emailing the devs when i have issues (i was user 2179 so back then it was ok, if maybe annoying) needs to end now that iNat has like a million users, so i need to make sure I’m discussing this in the right place too. I have some broader concerns about conservation techniques, global/monetary issues, open data, and causes for poaching that i’d like to discuss too, and i can do so elsewhere if it isn’t wanted here, but i think it’s very relevant to iNat’s obscuring policy.



for what it’s worth, i think what you’re asking them to do would open up a fairly large loophole that would allow someone who knows what they’re doing to defeat the obscuration fairly quickly. i noticed some weirdness the other night that i was initially thinking was a sign the system was doing what you’re asking for, and i started drafting up an e-mail to point out the “issue”. but as i poked further, i realized what they were actually doing, and it’s a reasonable way to make sure that tech-savvy poachers and stalkers can’t find their targets. in my mind, having a sound obscuration method takes priority.



well, this is a balance. it depends on the relative threat to the species, the size of the area being obscured, and a bunch of other stuff. i think some people tend to forget that iNat isn’t just being used recreationally, a lot of small or resource-poor community conservation groups use it too. In some cases (rhinos) the threat of poaching is high enough that hiding the data from even these groups is necessary. In other cases (edge of range red spruce) it’s not. And there are TONS of grey areas in between so it isn’t easy at all.

For a long time the iNat stance was ‘use common sense and judgement and just don’t put something in if it is high risk. This will never be secret’. There will always be some loopholes to obscuring, if nothing else outright hacking as it has happened to bank sites and other places that have MUCH more stringent security than iNat would ever have.

One of the things that seems to be going on is a lot of concern without a lot of data to back it up. Most ‘traditional’ conservation groups seem very loathe to share data. There may be good reasons for this, but in some cases maybe that isn’t the case. There is always very high concern about poaching coming from iNat and other sites, but what isn’t really clear is when this poaching/collecting actually happens and if so what are the circumstances? And does the availability of data make it more likely? Poaching and overcollection have been rife for a century, is iNat making poaching worse or is it just letting us SEE poaching more? Might full community awareness of location and status of some species DECREASE poaching? Are there chances of using iNat in some sort of honey pot setup to actually catch poachers? Are different taxa at different levels of risk? (for instance herp poaching is apparently rife but most rare plants with some notable exceptions (orchids, ginseng) gather little if any attention, while some relatively common plants that aren’t obscured may face risk by overzealous collectors (fiddleheads etc).

In short, caution is warranted but actions that cripple small conservation groups without a clear need are not. I am not trying to say this is an easy balance, but what i have seen so far in my opinion, is an increase in things obscured, but not necessarily in a way that is protecting the most at-risk species, and potentially in a way that makes certain groups less able to use iNat. I also see more collaboration with larger, more traditional conservation groups. Initially i thought this might be a good thing, but… if we surrender our decision making to them in terms of what we obscure, i am not so sure. Remember - while traditional conservation organizations certainly do more good than if they didn’t exist, they are also losing the ‘war’. Habitat loss, extinction, climate change, wetland filling, etc etc etc continue around the world, at a far greater rate than things are being restored (and restoration often doesn’t work). If we don’t try a different form of conservaiton, we will just continue to lose until most ecosystems and species are gone or seriously impacted.

From my experience iNat is being used as a powerful tool. Powerful tools can be dangerous. Safety measures need to be taken. But if you break or throw the tool away because you are afraid of it, you lose out on a lot.We can throw this tool away but everyone saw how we made it and someone will just build another one. Or we can be a part of the new conservation movement that maybe this time will allow communities to actually understand and protect what they love.

As an aside i am fine with moving this topic elsewhere if others want to since it has drifted off topic and isn’t a bug report.

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Rather than fragment this conversation or confuse another topic conversation by merging, I just moved this topic from Bug Reports to General.



Thanks @bouteloua . i wondered about merging it with my other obscuring topic but last time i merged something like that it kinda broke it so i am not sure.



This issue of too-much-exposure (leading to poaching) vs need-the-exposure (leading to better conservation because of better awareness, better grant-getting, etc) is a central biodiversity question for iNaturalist. I once gave an iNat presentation to a class and was completely undermined by the instructor who was a FWS guy and adamant that iNat was going to exterminate species through poaching. I wanted to disagree with him but had no data to cite. How can we learn more about these impacts?



i don’t know but remember he doesn’t have any data to cite either. That view is prominent in ‘mainstream’ institutionalized conservation. And again… that model is not working.