Sustainability and Safety in the Pacific West's National Parks

Postdoctoral researcher Alice Kelly is investigating sustainabilty and safety in our National Parks.

U.S. National Parks are to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” (NPS Organic Act 1916).

What is a crime? 

Crime and criminals are subjective, spatially delineated, and historically contingent categories. They are not, nor ever have been, pre-determined or natural classifications. As laws, land use regulations, as well as national and local power relations shift, so do the definitions of crimes and criminals (see Foucault 1980). As parks are created things that once were completely legal in these spaces (e.g. hunting or agriculture) become crimes. This study takes into account those acts which are deemed illegal by 36 Code of Federal Regulations concerning Parks, Forests, and Public Property as well as state and federal law, depending on park jurisdiction.

Why is studying crime in our national parks important? 

Gaining better understanding of when and where different types of crimes are committed, and the potential geographic, political economic, and social drivers crime in parks will:

  • Assist the National Park Service (NPS) in allocating resources to parks most in need of law enforcement.
  • Help NPS prevent crime and prepare for its potential occurrence.
  • Preventing and limiting crime serves to uphold the Park Service’s mandate to preserve our nation’s natural and cultural heritage while also providing for their safe enjoyment by the public.

Documenting Crime

This study tries to take the many variables associated with crime statistics into account in order to appropriately document crime rates within Pacific West Region National Parks over time using:

  • Ride-alongs and in-depth interviews with Law Enforcement
  • Rangers to understand factors that influence motivation for proactive patrols, limitations of law enforcement in each park, dispatch efficacy, and in-person crime reporting.
  • Analyses of funding, telecommunications, ranger numbers, crime reporting systems, and calls for service to better understand the crime rates in these areas.

Uncovering Drivers of Crime

While statistical analyses have not been performed yet, surveys and interviews with rangers in ten areas managed by the National Park Service indicate that some of the following may be factors in crime in national parks:

  • Distance to urban areas and crime rates in those areas
  • State laws concerning controlled substances
  • Adjacent land ownership and use
  • Number of Law Enforcement Staff available to the park
  • Ecology and available natural resources within the park
  • Presence/absence of park entrance stations
  • Number of access points to the park (e.g. roads & trails)
  • Status of the park as “destination” or “drive through”
  • Presence/absence of park concessions
  • Distance to prisons

Assessing impacts of crime

The study will link data gathered on crime rates with ongoing/historical studies and data collected by other agencies and scholars in order to assess impacts on:

  • Visitation
  • Cultural resources
  • Plant and animal populations
  • Watersheds and landscapes
  • Park expenditures

Proposed Products of the Study

  • Historical database of crime in Pacific West National Parks that interfaces with existing Nation-Wide Incident Reporting System
  • Mapping of crime over time and space in the Pacific West Region’s National Park
  • Analysis of potential political geographic, economic, and social drivers of crime in parks

Stay tuned for more information about this important project!