Date: 6/27/18 6:48 pm From: Joel Geier <joel.geier...> Subject: [obol] USFWS issues 90-day findings for petition to DE-list Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo: caution on "citizen science"
A follow-up item:
Today's Federal Register entry also includes the results of a 90-day review of a petition to *delist* Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo (the subspecies that may still nest, very rarely, in Oregon). The petition was filed bby the Arizona Cattlemen's Association, Arizona Mining Association, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Public Lands Council, and other groups.
However the USFWS gives credence to Section 5.3 titled: "New data on YBCU habitat use and requirements indicate that the USFWS' analysis of the conservation status of the purported western [distinct population segment] of YBCU was in error." That section cites data collected by the petitioner's paid consulting firm, Tucson Audubon, and "YBCU detections collected by citizen scientists."
What were those data in the last category? See Table 1, "Recent YBCU Survey Data." The consulting firm identified:
9 sites based on their own surveys, 23 sites based on Tucson Audubon records, 2 sites based on USFWS data 105 sites based on eBird.
Thus 70% of the sites in "non-typical" habitat to support this petition come from eBird.
I hope that Oregon's eBird reviewers, in particular, will take note of this. Once data go into a public record such as eBird, they can be used by anyone, including anti-conservation groups.
As birders, we all know that there's a lot of slop in eBird's review process. Right now I see a lot of "records" for Vesper Sparrows that are in dubious situations, but which were not flagged by county reviewers. This YBCU de-listing petition shows how inadequate review can come back to cause real problems for species that need protection.
I hope this serves as a wake-up call for anyone who's been thinking that "citizen science" data will always be used for a cause that you support. Data are neutral, and can be used by anyone. Let's make sure at least that reports of imperiled species are fully vetted before they get enshrined in eBird.