What Are 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.

Taxonomy of Wilderness Problems

Threat category*Problem
1 Agriculture and aquaculture 

Annual and perennial (non)timber crops

  • Planting of crops for food, fiber, fuel or other uses  

Livestock farming and ranching 

  • Cattle grazing / ranching in protected areas 
2 Energy production and mining 

Mining and quarrying 

  • Mining for precious minerals, sand, limestone, rocks, mud and other as well as exploration and development for the same 
3 Biological resource use 

Hunting and collecting terrestrial animals** 

  • Honey collection
  • Insect collection
  • Poaching for meat, bones, skin, fur (sustenance)
  • Poaching for meat, bones, skin, fur (cultural)
  • Poaching for trophy (commercial)
  • Poaching for trophy (cultural)
  • Poaching for pet trade (live animals)
  • Poaching for pet trade (eggs)
  • Poaching for breeding programs (live animals)
  • Poaching as retaliation for human-wildlife conflict
  • Poaching for traditional medicine/witchcraft
  • Poaching for animal testing
  • Poaching for excitement or thrills, aka thrill killing
  • Poaching for zoo collections or wildlife tourism
  • Sentinel poaching 

Gathering terrestrial plants

  • Bark collection
  • Cotton collection
  • Flora poaching (e.g. orchids, cacti)
  • Fungi collection
  • Medicinal plant collection
  • Thatch collection 

Logging and wood harvesting

  • Charcoal burning
  • Commercial timber extraction
  • Firewood collection
  • Pole harvesting
  • Pit sawing
  • Scented wood collection

Fishing and harvesting aquatic resources

  • Coral collection
  • Fishing for protected species
  • Fishing in unauthorized area (out of season, without correct permit)
  • Fishing with outlawed equipment (i.e. nets with small holes, poison, electrical, nets, fish traps, spears)
  • Dam fishing
  • Destructive fishing practices (i.e. dynamite/grenades)
  • Overfishing quota
4 Human intrusions and disturbance 

Recreational activities

  • Off-tracking

War, civil unrest and military exercises

  • Mine fields
  • Occupation
  • Troop and material transport

Work and other activities

  • Destruction, moving or damaging of border markers
  • Encroachment***
  • Speeding (road kill)
  • Trespassing 
5 Human-wildlife conflict 
  • Crop raiding (i.e. corn, rice, cassava)
  • Disease transmission
  • Retaliatory and fear killings
  • Human mortalities (i.e. caused by elephants, tigers, crocodiles)
  • Livestock predation
  • Problem animals (i.e. buffalo, baboon, elephant) 
6 Natural system modifications 

Fire and fire suppression

  • Arson for e.g. vegetation clearing
  • Campfires
  • Fire suppression to protect e.g. homes
Dams and water management/use
  • Dam building
  • Wetland filling (e.g. mosquito control)

Other ecosystem modifications

  • Vegetation clearing 
7 Invasive and other problematic species and genes 
  • Introduction of invasive species
  • Introduction of unwanted native species or individuals
8 Pollution 
  • Household, commercial or industrial waste disposal
  • Littering 
9 Other
  • Attacks on enforcement or other protected area personnel
  • Burglary from lodges
  • Corruption – misuse/embezzlement of PA funds, bribery, taxation, protected area staff selling hunting rights, etc.
  • Drug cultivation and manufacturing
  • Emergency rescue of tourists
  • Human rights infringements (e.g. slave labor)
  • Illegal sale of protected area lands
  • Robbery of tourists, unsanctioned taxes or road tolls
  • Theft of protected area equipment (camera traps, vehicles, signage etc)
  • Trafficking (humans, arms, narcotics, other)
  • Vandalism

* Threat categorizations partly drawn from Salafsky, N., Salzer, D., Stattersfield, A.J., Hilton-Taylor, C., Neugarten, R., Butchart, S.H.M., Collen, B., Cox, N., Master, L.L., O'Connor, S. & Wilkie, D. (2007). "A standard lexicon for biodiversity conservation: unified classifications of threats and actions." Conservation Biology, 22(4), 897-911. DOI:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00937.x

** Each type of poaching can be committed using a variety of techniques for killing, detection and transportation Active poaching (finding and killing animal): professional gun, homemade gun, bow and arrow (poisoned arrows), dogs with spear, dogs with net, tranquilizer dart, spotlighting, vehicle (intentional roadkill), aerial (shooting from plane/helicopter), drones (used to scout), hunting platforms (illegally constructed) Passive poaching (laying traps for animal): snaring (different types of material for different animals), gin traps, pit traps, hanging spear trap, poison (i.e. water or food source), mist nets (for birds)

*** Encroachment is the act of (gradually) infringing on protected area land to claim this for oneself for various reasons (perceived right, agricultural expansion, etc.) 

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. 


The Poaching Diaries

The Poaching Diaries: Crime Scripting for Wilderness Problems is an edited collection of contributions on wildlife crime prevention and wilderness problems. It is an outlet for practitioners, policy makers, and academics to tell stories that facilitate problem-solving. The aim is to present ideas that help governments and civil society diversify their approach to wildlife protection to achieve lasting impacts. The focus of Volume 1 is crime scripting, a useful process for unpacking problems and designing clever solutions. 

Forthcoming Publications

Wildlife Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers in 70 Small Steps

This guide will introduce analysts how to think about local crime problems, synthesize information, and produce useful output to direct operations.

Problem Specific Guide: Wildlife Poaching on Federal Lands in the United States

In the tradition of problem-specific guides already available from the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, this guide will help law enforcement agencies structure their thinking and analysis about poaching on federal lands in the United States. The guide synthesizes the academic literature available on this topic and provides a framework for problem solving at the local level.

Interactive Poaching Problem Analysis Module

This ‘game’ exposes wildlife protection organizations to the problem-solving approach using a hypothetical example of poaching in a protected area. Players receive an overview of the problem and then choose data sources to explore it in greater depth. After analyzing the problem, they design tailored solutions that go beyond traditional enforcement.

Editorial board

Andrew M. Lemieux (editor-in-chief) (Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement) 

Email: alemieux@nscr.nl

Andrew Lemieux oversees content development for the Wilderness Problems section with support from an editorial board comprising academics and practitioners. If you are interested in developing content, have suggestions for content development, or know of resources already available, please contact the editor-in-chief. 

Dr. Lemieux is a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR). He coordinates the NSCR’s Wildlife Crime Cluster and is a member of the Spatial and Temporal Crime Patterns Cluster. Over the last decade, Andrew has worked with numerous wildlife-protection agencies in Africa and Asia including governmental, non-governmental, and private entities. His work revolves around the collection and use of data for decision-making, with an emphasis on problem solving and situational crime prevention. He has spent considerable time in the field with rangers on the front line of protection efforts and with managers looking for innovative ways to protect their ecosystem. These experiences are what led Andrew to promote the use of problem solving for wildlife protection as a way to find holistic solutions that are mutually beneficial to wildlife and communities.

Meredith Gore (Michigan State University)

Twitter: @meredithgore

Website: www.conservationcriminology.com

Meredith Gore is a conservation social scientist leveraging concepts of risk to enhance understanding of human-environment relationships. Her scholarship is designed to build evidence for action. The majority of her scientific inquiry can be described as convergence research on conservation issues such as wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, fishing and mining.

For approximately 10 years, she was jointly appointed in the Department of Fisheries & Wildlife in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and School of Criminal Justice in the College of Social Science at Michigan State University; now the former is her home. 

Meredith received her PhD in Natural Resource Policy and Management from Cornell University, MA in Environment and Resource Policy from George Washington University, and BA in Anthropology and Environmental Studies from Brandeis University.

She is a MSU Global Research Academy Fellow,  National Academies of Sciences Jefferson Science FellowUS Department of State Embassy Science Fellow and  Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leader

Jonathan Hunter (Wildlife Conservation Society)

Jonathan Hunter served seven years in the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service before moving to Southeast Asia where he has been adapting his experience of front-line site-based enforcement to the fight against illegal wildlife trade. During this time, Jonathan has developed bespoke information management systems for sites, and led problem-solving processes to develop strategies for site based law enforcement as well as capacity building in intelligence gathering and handling, safety protocols and enforcement management. 

Jennifer Mailley (UK Home Office)

Jen Mailley has over twenty years of experience in crime research and control. She currently works as a senior analyst in the Crime and Policing Analysis Unit of the UK Home Office. Her experience in wildlife crime includes the use of problem-solving to address tiger poaching in Malaysia, hands-on capacity building for using forensic science in addressing wildlife crime, and developing a novel method for assessing the social and economic costs of wildlife crime by including natural capital costs.

She currently sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Wildlife Crime of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, and the UK NWCU’s Poaching Priority Delivery Group (more info at: PPDG).

William Moreto (University of Central Florida)

Twitter: @MoreToPhD

Website: www.conservationcrimescience.com

William D. Moreto is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida. He received his Ph.D. from the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice in 2013. He is a research fellow of the Wildlife Crime cluster at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, and Research Associate of the Rutgers Center for Conservation Criminology and Ecology. His research centers on the study of wildlife crime, wildlife law enforcement, environmental criminology and crime science, situational crime prevention, policing, and conservation social science. He has conducted fieldwork in Kenya, Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda, and the United States, and has led data collection in over 18 countries. His research can be found in leading journals, including Justice Quarterly, British Journal of Criminology, Qualitative Research, and Oryx: The International Journal of Conservation. He is the lead author of Wildlife Crime: An Environmental Criminology and Crime Science Perspective (Carolina Academic Press) and editor of Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice (Temple University Press).

Gohar Petrossian (John Jay School of Criminal Justice)

Gohar Petrossian is an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at CUNY – John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research interests include crimes against wildlife, with a particular interest in IUU fishing, spatial and temporal analysis of crime and GIS mapping, environmental criminology and opportunity theories, and crime prevention. She is currently working on a book titled Last Fish Swimming: The Global Crime of Illegal Fishing (Global Crime and Justice Series. ABC-CLIO, LLC, Praeger Imprint). 

Robert Pickles (Panthera)

Rob Pickles is the Regional Coordinator for Counter-Wildlife Crime in South and Southeast Asia for Panthera, an NGO specialising in wild cat protection. Rob closely supports counter-poaching teams in protected areas in Asia, developing knowledge management systems, refining understanding of the specifics of different poaching problems and designing interventions to counter these. His interests run from fine scale counter-poaching tactics to larger scale strategic design, synthesising and applying lessons from diverse, resource limited, problem control disciplines in remote areas. Rob earned a PhD in ecology from the University of Kent and Zoological Society of London in 2010 and is an honorary research fellow at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement.

Steven Pires (Florida International University)

Stephen Pires, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He is an expert on the illegal wildlife trade with a particular focus on commonly-poached species (i.e. hot products), illicit markets, & the organization of the illegal trade. His work has appeared in the Journal of Research in Crime & DelinquencyThe British Journal of CriminologyBird Conservational International, and Forest Policy & Economics. In addition, he has co-authored the book, “Wildlife Crime: An Environmental Criminology and Crime Science Perspective” and co-edited the book, "Quantitative Studies in Green and Conservation Criminology."

Julie Viollaz

Julie Viollaz works as the Wildlife Crime Research Officer for the Crime Research Section of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Prior to this, she was a research Associate at Michigan State University and worked as a consultant on wildlife crime issues. She has a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from the CUNY Graduate Center & John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a B.A. in Biology from Mount Holyoke College. She specializes in field interventions to help communities, law enforcement personnel, and NGOs apply crime prevention techniques to poaching and wildlife trafficking. She was part of the team that conducted the 2016 mid-term evaluation of USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (Phase III) in the Congo Basin and has worked with a range of government agencies and NGOs including the WWF, FFI, Global Wildlife Conservation, UN, INTERPOL, USAID, U.S. State Department, and NYPD.