Updates to conservation statuses in progress in Canada

For the record, here is the email I sent for obscured birds in Ontario:

Hi Allison and others,

Please find below a list (table) of currently-obscured bird species for Ontario on iNaturalist, and how I think these statuses should be changed (I am volunteering to actually implement any changes once we get to that point).

This list includes all SAR and all species ranked S3 or below. I believe all these species are currently being obscured and that there are no additional species being obscured beyond these, although I haven’t checked completely comprehensively.

Long story short, most of the current obscuring is highly unnecessary. The first eight species I believe should remain obscured, the rest I believe should not be obscured. Please let me know any comments/concerns etc.

Thank you, Reuven Martin

S-Rank Species at Risk?
Species to remain Obscured
Very rare Southern Ontario breeding bird likely to be disturbed by birder targeting
Barn Owl S1 Y
Henslow’s Sparrow SHB Y
King Rail S2B Y
Kirtland’s Warbler S1B Y
Northern Bobwhite S1 Y
Less vulnerable than the above, but should likely still be obscured
Prothonotary Warbler S1B Y
Yellow-breasted Chat S1B Y
Disturbance is potentially a serious issue year-round at many sites
Short-eared Owl S2N,S4B Y
Species to be Un-obscured
Although very rare, most breeding sites are already widely publicised elsewhere (no additional risk from iNaturalist)
Loggerhead Shrike S2B Y
Piping Plover S1B Y
Targeted visits are unlikely to have a negative impact (due to species’ biology)
Fish Crow S1S2 N
Western Kingbird S1B N
Yellow-headed Blackbird S2B N
Extinct or extirpated species - if someone does add a historical observation there is no reason to hide it
Eskimo Curlew SHN Y
Greater Prairie-Chicken SX N
Passenger Pigeon SX N
Species is relatively widespread and many locations to see the species are already publicised and readily available (i.e. no additional risk from iNaturalist)
Acadian Flycatcher S2S3B Y
Bald Eagle S2N,S4B Y
Black Tern S3B Y
Cerulean Warbler S3B Y
Golden-winged Warbler S4B Y
Least Bittern S4B Y
Louisiana Waterthrush S3B Y
Peregrine Falcon S3B Y
Prairie Warbler S3B N
White-eyed Vireo S2B N
No risk of targeted disturbance except (maybe) at colonies, and many colony locations are easily obtained from other sources (e.g. eBird, scientific articles, SAR recovery strategies). All species are easily seen away from colonies.
American White Pelican S2B Y
Black-crowned Night-heron S3B,S3N N
Caspian Tern S3B N
Forster’s Tern S2B N
Great Black-backed Gull S2B N
Great Egret S2B N
No serious risk of targeted disturbance in migration or winter, and breeding range is almost entirely or entirely inaccessible within Ontario
American Golden-Plover S2B,S4N N
Common Eider S2B N
Golden Eagle S2B Y
Harris’s Sparrow SNA Y
Horned Grebe S1B,S4N Y
Hudsonian Godwit S3B,S4N N
King Eider SHB N
Lapland Longspur S3B N
Little Gull S1B N
Long-tailed Duck S3B N
Marbled Godwit S3B N
Pacific Loon S3B N
Parasitic Jaeger S2B N
Pectoral Sandpiper SHB,S5N N
Red Knot S1N Y
Red-necked Grebe S3B,S4N N
Red-necked Phalarope S3S4B Y
Red-throated Loon S1N,S3B N
Ross’s Goose S1B N
Rough-legged Hawk S1B,S4N N
Semipalmated Sandpiper S3B,S4N N
Short-billed Dowitcher S3B,S4N N
Wilson’s Phalarope S3B N
Whimbrel S3B,S4N N
Yellow Rail S4B Y
Now present only as a vagrant in Ontario with no conservation concerns
Bewick’s Wren SHB N
Lark Sparrow SHB N
Abundant outside of breeding season, breeding disturbance is unlikely
Canvasback S1B,S4N N
Redhead S2B,S4N N
Species is relatively common and targeted disturbance is not an issue
Bank Swallow S4B Y
Barn Swallow S4B Y
Black-billed Magpie S3? N
Bobolink S4B Y
Canada Warbler S4B Y
Chimney Swift S4B,S4N Y
Common Nighthawk S4B Y
Eastern Meadowlark S4B Y
Eastern Palm Warbler S1B N
Eastern Whip-poor-will S4B Y
Eastern Wood-pewee S4B Y
Evening Grosbeak S4B Y
Grasshopper Sparrow S4B Y
Olive-sided Flycatcher S4B Y
Purple Martin S3S4B N
Red-headed Woodpecker S4B Y
Rusty Blackbird S4B Y
Western Meadowlark S3B N
Wood Thrush S4B Y

In places where we have formalized relationships, I think it generally makes sense for iNaturalist to work with relevant, local organizations to take the lead on what should be obscured. However, it is far from clear how best to go about that. We’re trying it in Canada by starting with provincial-level decisions that can be changed with input from the community (and can technically be changed by curators). Most provinces opted to unobscure more species, but Ontario (which also has more than half of Canada’s observations) is still obscuring extensively.

iNat staff are not in a position to manage these kinds of decisions at scale, so it makes sense to connect the knowledgable users and curators with the CDCs to work together to refine the obscuration list.

The main issue I see here is in how the changes were implemented. I think the existing auto-obscure statuses, which have been developed by curators over the years (albeit inconsistently and haphazardly) should be the starting point.

If, as seems to have been the cases for most provinces, the local organisation wants to comprehensively go through the list of rare species and make a decision for each, that’s great. But if, as in Ontario, that never happens at all, it is very frustrating that statuses generated without any human judgement then override existing statuses that did involve human judgement.

In other words, if the status of a species has not changed, the level of obscuration should not change unless some human being has explicitly made the decision that it should change.


hi Carrie, thanks!

I think this makes sense when we are all acting in the same spirit - that we are obscuring things that may be subject to collection or harassment. But this doesn’t seem tobe what is happening here. For some reason, this local organization has just decided to obscure a bunch of globally common (and locally common) species with no collection risk whatsoever. Perhaps even worse, we are not offered any explanation, data was just hidden from people with no real warning or recourse. It’s bad now and will get much worse if the feared changes to how auto obscuring takes place ever do occur. If that ever happens Ontario’s data will be pretty much unusable to people like me, which would probably mean I’d also remove Ontario from all my ID help filters and such, because I don’t see much point in participating in identifying other people’s observations that aren’t shared with me. That isn’t why i am here.

In short, working with an organization like this is great overall, but when something absurd lke this happens, there needs to be some other sort of recourse. The community deserves a better explanation i think, someone needs to explain to this entity why this isn’t the approach iNat should take, and if they keep pushing it, should just plain be overridden. Sorry, but hiding biodiversity for no good reason isn’t what iNat should be about.

Given what has happened here, i think this is more or less pointless. Nearly all of the locally ‘rare’ but globally common species shouldn’t have been obscured. It would be easier at this point for the globally common species to just start over and find the small few that actually have reason to be obscured - ginseng, some orchids, etc.

NHIC Ontario splits Ranunculus hispidus but iNat does not. As a result, the status that is meant to apply to
was instead applied to

I have fixed the statuses of both taxa

I agree with Charlie on this. There are maybe a few dozen plants that would be legitimately threatened by publishing unobscurred location data on iNat, and hundreds that are currently obscured. It would be far less work to compile of list of plants that should be obscured than the ones that shouldn’t.

I’d be interested in learning more about how NatureServe Canada contributes to iNaturalist in general, as in this instance they seem to have been given a fair bit of control over other people’s data.


Agreeing with most here that there are many Ontario species being “over-obscured”. However, I have just noticed that Trillium flexipes was recently removed from auto-obscure. I understand this species isn’t particularly rare if considered as a whole, however the Ontario(Canada) population is extremely small and vulnerable, and I’ve been informed by managers at one of the few populations that poaching is something they have to deal with fairly often. I feel this one that should be put back on the list for auto-obscuring.

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Yes, if we were to start over I think I’d err on the side of obscuring for orchids and other showy, collectable groups like Trillium (excluding the really common ones).


Clearly Drooping Trillium should be obscured given it’s popularity and extreme rarity in Ontario. I have changed it.

I don’t really understand why or how it was unobscured though?

Before I just updated it, the page said

Updated by kueda on February 01, 2019

But I know for a fact that the species was obscured more recently than that. If a curator had changed it I think we would see that there (the page now says correctly that I updated it today). I can only assume that this was changed to “open” in the recent update, but something has gone terribly wrong if Honey-locust is being recommended as “obscured” but Drooping Trillium as “open”?!


I have found at least two more exceptionally rare species that have their geoprivacy set to “open” in Ontario and no indication that they’ve been edited since February. These species are probably not exceptionally vulnerable and I’ve left them open for now in case it helps discover what’s going on.


Most species that “should” be obscured do seem to be set properly.

Maybe related Snapping Turtle has been set as “open” even though you can at least make a reasonable argument that it should be obscured. This seems hard to square with stuff like Monarch being set to “obscured”. Not sure what’s going on here?

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@carrieseltzer - once this is reviewed, can you please verify that the rules now in place for changes to obscuring in Canada - if the iNat community feels something should be obscured that NatureServe has chosen not to, are curators allowed to change that to obscure it?

Obviously the opposite is not true, but how about this ?

I would hope and assume that the rules apply both ways. I’ve only made the change above because I think it’s a real data vulnerability and is almost certainly a mistake along the line somewhere rather than a real decision to have “open” geoprivacy.

I would actually hope the opposite. I can reluctantly accept not being able to overrule NatureServe decisions about what to obscure. However, if say the iNat community decided it wanted to adopt the Ebird model and obscure owls, either in Canada, or even globally even if NatureServe has decided not to, I fail to see how that is NatureServe’s business.

I’m not suggesting it is something that should be done often, merely I do not see why it should not be allowed.

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On the topic of how to handle cases where the iNat community wants to obscure something that NatureServe Canada has not selected for obscuration (especially in cases were it seems to be in error), I suggest for the time being that curators proceed with obscuration without delay, and then send an email to @allisonsw_nsc letting her know about the change and justification.

I compared the taxon geoprivacy of three species noted above for production (the live site) and gorilla (data not updated since mid-March). Asclepias hirtella and Silphium laciniatum were both open on gorilla, but Trillium flexipes was obscured. I’m looking into what happened with T. flexipes but am not sure yet. I’ll keep digging.


why? what if they literally demand everything should be obscured? There has to be some line somewhere.

Because i get an opinion, but not a vote. The site is not a democracy.

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that’s not what i meant by accept at all. Anyhow the iNat admins do listen. No it’s not a democracy. But they care about the community and hopefully wouldn’t do something like that which would basically break their website.


I understand, I and many others have expressed we disagree with this decision. For the record I

  • do not object to NatureServe\s data being used as a starting point that can be reviewed and updated
  • do not object to NatureServe being involved in the discussions
  • in fact I have probably been the strongest advocate/critic that the site has not implmented regional protection lists outside North America

I do object to NatureServe being given unilateral control.

As you and others have noted this will basically render iNat useless as anything other than a personal log in Canada, especially when/if the by day obscuring is implemented.

It will be almost to not find an obscured species on any outing meaning either virtually all data will end up obscured, or users will have to explictly decide not to report obscured species, both of which seem hugely counterproductive.

I would assume / hope the site saw the feedback, but it was still implemented


My understanding is that communication process is just slow. No final decision was made. It’s frustrating to me too and I agree with you. As mentioned earlier I’m not gonna do any Id help in Ontario until it’s fixed. Maybe that’s a small thing but… I don’t choose to give free expertise when I can’t see the data in a reasonable way.

Definitely disappointing though that for all the over active obscuring some actually in trouble species like trillium cernuum were un obscured. It brings home the point that conservation status and obscuring need are very different. Many rare species especially locally rare ones have no reason to be obscured and some species that don’t yet have conservation status need to be obscured.

I wonder if there is a database by some enforcement group that has actual data on what is poached.

Charlie - it’s your choice on how to spend your time obviously, but this punishes users, not the people making decisions that many of us find odd.

@allisonsw_nsc - any idea when NatureServe and/or the Ontario NHIC will be able to provide more info, if not a comprehensive response?

It’s not about punishment. I’m here for this open data biodiversity project. I’m fine with helping with some obscured data but when mass amounts are obscured I kinda don’t see the point. Hopefully they just fix the problem but…

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