“Sharing cool wildlife sightings has become an important component of citizen science efforts. We post wildlife photos on iNaturalist, we participate in backyard bird counts, you report unusual sightings to wildlife agencies. These activities can play important roles in conservation, enabling researchers to track larger trends.”
I think obscuring the exact location is a good practice for any species that could be harmed by “too much” interest. Even soil compression from foot traffic may be harmful for certain plants, mosses, etc.
If you’re very concerned, then I recommend not posting it publicly - nothing on the internet is 100% secure. If you think the organism is of concern to a local agency (I’m not sure how things are organized in Canada) then you might consider just contacting them directly.
In the days of blissful innocence, one of my great delights was sharing my discoveries with other like-minded folks on various internet forums. I now wince at how carefree I was, we all were, back then. I’ve recently stopped using social media to share my photos and am always wary about what I post on iNaturalist, although very few of the things I photograph and upload are really at risk. Such a pity it has to be that way, but apart from the few people with genuinely bad intentions, as @teellbee rightly points out: “Even soil compression from foot traffic may be harmful for certain plants, mosses, etc.”. As with so many things, we’re back to the numbers game and the reach of internet today is just beyond anything we could have even imagined just a few years ago.
For some organisms, a simple time delay is ample protection, and there’s value to the presence data for conservation purposes. By all means be cautious for fauna that’s regularly poached, but I do see more paranoia about whether someone might theoretically pinpoint an organism than seems to me justified.
If the foot traffic from people hiking miles to see rare plants was causing an actual problem in many places that would likely come bundled with a healthier local economy and surging conservation interest. Even when we would like to be alone at our favorite spot, trying to keep out the next person like yourself is a fool’s game.
has anyone actually documented evidence of poachers or over-excited naturalists causing damage due to iNaturalist sightings? I do obscure or avoid posting a few high risk species, and obscure on private land and in some other cases. However, while i believe this problem does exist, i think it is often very much overstated especially relative to the benefits of posting here, which often go unconsidered in these sorts of writeups.
Not specific to iNat, but I know of two cases of illegal pet traders using geotags on Instagram posts to find and target populations of Spotted Turtles and Reticulated Flatwoods Salamanders.
Additionally, before Black Rails were listed as a sensitive species on eBird, there were serious issues of unethical birding, particularly the use of broadcasts on breeding grounds (to the point where a breeding population was at severe risk from the near-constant disturbance; the location ultimately had to be closed to the public and temporarily guarded).
I think there is a lot of nuance here. eBird and iNat data has been invaluable to some of my past work. I think both sites are pretty responsive regarding concerns around sensitive species. But I do think it is something observers should also be conscious of.
Yes, there have been a few credible reports made to us. The internet in general is definitely used by poachers and even by people who are just curious (eg Hyperion). Tough to get data on the relative pros and cons of data sharing, though, and I agree that many times public data is probably helpful when it comes to protecting areas from development.
Specific links between damage and iNat observations will probably be hard to find or prove, but similar to @teellbee’s concerns, I’m thinking of potential damage to cryptobiotic crust from too much traffic in sensitive areas.
A few years back, when I was getting really interested into ferns. I was looking everything up. Also went to the IUCN lists, and similar endangered lists. There I looked up all the extremely rare ferns, out of curiosity. I then copy and pasted them, and posted it on reddit. Asking people where I could find these ferns.
After much concern of the people of that subreddit, and my post being deleted, I released what I was doing was extremely suspicious. And looked like I wanted to poach these plants.
But it just shows how even the most innocent of actions can lead to potentially dangerous situations.
I have experienced inquiries for location details and even people asking me to go back and collect seeds for them after posting pictures of rare plants on social media. Some of these were people I knew or could verify are doing legitimate research or conservation work, but some were just suspicious or obviously clueless. One person asking me to collect seeds said they had a nursery and wanted to grow those plants for sale and they would pay me for the seeds (which would have required at least two permits, one for collecting and another for sale, and probably a third one for exporting out of state). I’m surprised at the number of people out there who don’t know about permitting requirements and think that digging plants or collecting seeds is ok everywhere because they are “just plants” or “taking seeds doesn’t hurt the plant.” I try to educate the clueless, but sometimes I’m getting rather annoyed or irritated responses that tell me they know the rules very well and were hoping I wasn’t aware of them.
I completely understand the urge to share photos of wildlife. I love photographing creatures I find interesting and I’ll sometimes share on social media with a couple exceptions-- state-listed reptiles and owls. Poaching of turtles is an issue and I don’t want to contribute to spotted and box turtles disappearing from local habitats. I have my sightings on iNat but even as I put them up I debated whether I should be sharing even a general location.
For owls I’ll generally just say right out that I won’t share the location to head off people even asking. I don’t think it’s “gatekeeping” to not lead people to specific areas with animals or plants they’d like to see. That argument only comes out when someone wants to browbeat someone into sharing more information. To me, it seems more valuable to share generalities of where you can find certain plants and animals and let people do their own searching just like I’ve done.
It also seems to be something more associated with beginners or folks new to watching wildlife. Sometimes people just don’t know it’s not always acceptable to share so much information. I’d rather hurt someone’s feelings for a moment and be considered an “elitist” than lead those with bad intentions to vulnerable wildlife.
Then they are being unethical in two ways: first by trying to circumvent the rules that they know very well, and secondly by trying to recruit a naive fall guy to get caught for them.
I used to wonder why people were so unmoved – cold, I thought then – by anger and frustration. But as I find out more about scenarios like this, I understand them better: they’ve seen too many people who are angry about being prevented from doing something nefarious, they have to be suspicious of anyone who is angry for any reason.
has anyone actually documented evidence of poachers or over-excited naturalists
Not in an iNat context, but I’ve caught people stealing crystals and minerals after lying to get access. Destruction of fossil beds is a problem. A nesting pair of black cockies disappeared the week after a ‘bird lover’ visited my place. I’m very mistrustful.
I obscure most of what I post because much of it’s in my backyard. When I’m out and about and see someone that I know is valuable to the pet trade or sensitive I’ll usually wait a few days and post it obscured if I do
Apart from the obvious reasons for obscuring, or in some cases not posting, records of certain species I have two other reasons for not posting records of certain species.
First, for records of feral (in Australia) species such as pigs and deer I don’t put them on WildNet because to do so would run the risk of drawing the attention of hunters who often have no regard at all for private land. This is not only because shooting could involve risk to the landowners, but also because (a) such hunters are often accompanied by dogs that might target native wildlife species or the scent of their presence would drive some native species away and (b) some hunters are not above taking native wildlife species - an example being wallabies (a small kangaroo species) taken as food for their dogs.
Second, putting records of dingos (a native dog species, upwards of 4,000 years in Australia) could lead to deaths of dingos through the commencement / escalation of either poisoning with 1080 baits or drawing the attention of bounty hunting shooters - yes, Australia has bounties on our native apex predator. Local governments in areas with dingo populations frequently pay bounties of $25 and higher for dingo pelts, supported with funding from State and Federal governments and sometimes pastoral industry groups. This random killing is done under the heading of “wild dog” control, which fosters the belief among the general public that the target is feral domestic dogs (which hardly exist because they have lost most of the necessary adaptation to survival in the wild. Random killing through poisoning and shooting runs the risk of removing the female matriarch of the dingo “pack” who limits the increase in population in the group through the breeding of other fermales.