Wilderness Problems

Wilderness problems are a set of issues that take place in remote areas where land and open water has specific protection levels and use rights. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines seven protected area categories:

  1. strict nature reserves
  2. wilderness areas
  3. national parks
  4. natural monuments or features
  5. habitat/species management areas
  6. protected landscapes/seascapes
  7. protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

Governments, communities, private citizens, or a combination of the three, own and regulate activities on these areas. The environments provide a unique opportunity structure for problems to develop due to:

  • low levels of guardianship
  • an abundance of natural resources
  • the inability of non-human victims to report destructive behaviors
  • the challenge of regulating legal human activities in wilderness areas such as tourism, hunting and other natural resource extraction both on small and large scales
  • conflict over historical and contemporary land rights and uses

Wilderness problems often spill into rural, suburban, and urban areas, especially when products harvested in wild areas are processed, sold and consumed for local and international markets. Elephant poaching is an excellent example of a wilderness problem that spans a wide variety of actors and locations given the international demand for ivory. Conversely, urban demand for illegal narcotics, such as marijuana and methamphetamine, may cause manufacturers/growers to use protected areas for their operations to avoid detection. Knowing how wilderness problems connect to other settings is an important part of analyzing local problems and devising tailored solutions. Building coalitions of partners within, adjacent to, and beyond the borders of protected areas is a crucial part of addressing this set of issues.

How Can Problem-Oriented Policing Help Solve Wilderness Problems?

Problem-oriented policing (POP) is a proven method for solving problems in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Led by the SARA (Scan/Analyze/Respond/Assess) process, POP has helped numerous police agencies around the globe rethink how they deal with persistent problems. Recognizing that agencies have limited resources and mandates, POP encourages them to work more closely with other government agencies, non-governmental organizations, business owners, and private citizens to address problems more effectively.

Applying this approach to wilderness problems enables law enforcement agencies, and other interested organizations such as conservation NGOs, to restructure how they identify and solve problems that threaten the sustainability of ecosystems. Rather than relying solely on deterrence through enforcement, such as arresting offenders, POP looks for ways to reduce opportunities for anti-social behavior by focusing on specific problems, and tailoring prevention solutions to the local context. POP’s focus on prevention is especially important for wilderness problems because enforcement agencies are often disappointed by the courts which see crimes such as poaching, illegal logging, or overfishing as minor offenses. This reality means that when offenders are caught—which they rarely are—their punishments are minimal even when a strong case is presented.

The purpose of the Wilderness Problems portal of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing is to develop and share resources to help practitioners implement a problem-solving approach.