In 2023, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) introduced the Youth Education and Outreach Program (YEOP) to promote place-based, career-connected, outdoor learning experiences on state lands. This initiative is a key part of DNR’s workforce development strategy, aimed at creating a natural resource workforce that aligns with the sector’s needs and mirrors the community demographics. The program focuses on four core goals:
Equipping formal and non-formal educators with the knowledge and skills to teach about natural resource management complexities.
Providing Washington youth with experiential learning opportunities on public land to explore natural resource careers and develop professional skills.
Collaborating with educators, industry leaders, non-profits, and state agencies to foster interest and improve recruitment in natural resource careers, emphasizing historically excluded demographic groups.
Ensuring DNR staff are skilled and confident in conducting outreach and education with diverse youth across Washington.
YEOP leverages the expertise of DNR’s professionals to offer mentorship and career exploration in various fields like forestry, aquaculture, ecology, and wildlife habitat restoration. The program also utilizes the 5.6 million acres of DNR-managed lands as outdoor classrooms for K-12 students, providing a unique educational environment.
YEOP addresses critical issues such as climate resilience, sustainable resource management, and environmental justice, which are of significant interest to Washington’s youth. The program aims to empower young people in decision-making, promote stewardship behaviors, enhance environmental literacy, and support their physical and mental wellbeing through outdoor experiences.
Specific actions include field days for students, project-based learning, and training for educators on natural resource management and career pathways. Since its launch, YEOP has engaged over 2,000 K-12 students and provided professional learning opportunities for more than 120 teachers.
DNR seeks additional funding from the Washington State Legislature to expand YEOP, increase staff, and offer more programs and resources statewide. The program, despite limited resources, strives to fulfill as many educational requests as possible and is seeking to build a network of statewide partners to enhance its reach and impact. YEOP also offers resources like guest speakers and forestry tool kits for educational purposes.