Exploring our world: Helping youth learn about natural resource management

Youth can participate in activities to help them understand the need to responsibly manage our natural resources.

Do our natural resources need to be protected, monitored or managed responsibly? Is scientific research of our natural resources important? What do youth in your community think about Michigan’s natural resources? Encouraging youth to ask questions and discover answers is one way the Michigan State University Extension science team reaches its goal of increasing science literacy.

Ask youth to brainstorm a list of our natural resources; help youth understand that our natural resources include more than wildlife in our woods and water. Natural resources include oil, coal, minerals and metal along with the air, woods and water. Ask youth if they think managing our natural resources is important. Why or why not?

Next, engage youth in the sustainable harvesting activity. You will need a large, shallow bowl; a towel to cover the bowl; spoons; small cups; and small, edible items like fish crackers. Divide the youth into small groups. Each group is dependent upon harvesting fish for their livelihood. To survive, each group must harvest at least two fish each year. Additional fish are sold to improve their lifestyle and cannot be saved for the next year. At the end of each season, the remaining fish reproduce, doubling their numbers. The goal of each group is to survive by fishing for at least five years.

Provide each group with a small cup and spoon to use to harvest the fish. Make a chart to record the number of fish harvested each year, the number remaining and the population growth; don’t tell the youth the size of the population. Decide how long each group will get to go fishing in the bowl; 10 -20 seconds is a good starting amount.

In the bowl, place eight fish for each group and cover the bowl with a towel. Do not let the youth see how many fish there are. At the end of each round, count then double the number of fish remaining; remember, don’t tell the youth the size of the population. Ask each group to decide privately how many fish they should harvest this season and who will be their first fisherperson. Remind them their goal is to survive at least five years.

After all the groups have their plan, allow them to harvest fish. Record the number of fish each group harvested and the total number harvested at the end of each season. After the fish reproduce, begin the second round. Keep track of the beginning fish population each year, but do not show the youth.

If a group does not harvest the number of fish needed to survive, there are two options. One of the other groups could decide to donate the needed fish if they have more than they need to survive; this decision must be unanimous. Or, the group goes out of business and there will be less competition for the remaining fish.

After the first round, adjust the time each group has to harvest fish and the length of the fishing season as needed. Allow groups time to adjust their fishing plan for the year, then begin the next round. Repeat for five rounds or until the fish are wiped out.

Sample Fish Harvest Chart

Round (starting population)

Fish harvested by group 1

Fish harvested by group 2

Fish harvested by group 3

Fish harvested by group 4

Total number of fish harvested































Look at the data on the number of fish harvested each round and ask youth why they took the number they did. Would it have been easier to talk together as a fishing community rather than just a smaller group? Why? Would it have been helpful to have known the size of the population before starting? Why? Ask youth if they think managing our natural resources is important. Why or why not?

The most important part of any scientific investigation is the data analysis and reflection. When youth tell you or each other they do or do not think managing our natural resources is important, allow lots of time for them to explain why or why not. You helped them investigate and placed them on the road to discovering why. Now it is time for them to make their own conclusion based on the information collected and share their understanding with you and others. This is science in action.

Below is an example of a traditional population graph found in most life science and biology textbooks showing (A) lag growth, (B) exponential growth and (C) carrying capacity. While many youth have seen this graph, most have not had the opportunity to really understand why it is important. Help youth understand when they were fishing, sustaining the fish population would be in either B or C. If they over-fished and the population dropped so that some families went out of business, the fish population dropped into A. In time with little to no harvesting, many populations will recover from A; however, this takes cooperation and scientific research.

population graph

Traditional population graph with carrying capacity.

Youth interested in Michigan natural resources can take part in the week-long 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp this Aug. 5-11, 2018, in Presque Isle, Michigan. Visit the Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp website for additional information.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success.

To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

To learn more about MSU Extension, visit the MSU Extension website. To learn more about 4-H and Extension opportunities in Alcona County, stop by our Harrisville office at 320 S. State St. Harrisville, MI 48740, or visit us online at our Alcona County MSU Extension Facebook page or Alcona County Extension office page.

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