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The Last Stands Project


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Social Studies, Biology, Economics, Civics

Resource Type

  • Videos, 40 minutes, CC

Regional Focus

North America, United States, USA - West


Downloadable MP4/M4V

Understory: A Journey Into the Tongass

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  • This documentary film follows Elsa, a salmon fisher from Alaska, as she fights to protect Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world (Language Warning). 
  • Along with a botanical illustrator and a biologist, Elsa sails around Prince of Wales Island on a 350-mile expedition to examine and document how clearcut logging of this old-growth forest is affecting local communities and the planet's climate. 
Teaching Tips


  • This film provides a relevant example of government policies that have far-reaching impacts on local communities and the climate.
  • Students will learn about the Tongass National Forest and the fight to protect the last large swath of temperate rainforest.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Before viewing, it may be helpful to show students the location of the Tongass National Forest and Prince of Wales Island on a map.
  • The narrator uses a swear word (holy s**t) at 13:20.
  • Teachers may want to explain the terms clear-cut logging, old-growth forests, and temperate rainforests before watching the film.


  • This film is 40 minutes long. If time is a constraint, consider showing students a clip from 28:47 to 31:18. This clip describes why cutting down old-growth trees is bad for the environment and why it's so important to protect the remaining old-growth forests on Earth.
  • Economics or social studies classes could use this film to discuss how the government should regulate national forests and the logging industry.
  • Biology or science classes could discuss land use, deforestation, and the environmental benefits of protecting unique ecosystems like temperate rainforests.
  • Teachers can pair this film with this interactive map on global forests and land use or this article on the formation and destruction of rainforests.
Scientist Notes
This video identifies the impact of forest logging in Tongass National Forest. These impacts further exacerbate extreme weather events and climate change. It gives a significant new insight into forest mapping, CO2 inventory, advocacy to reduce deforestation, and climate change impact on vulnerable communities of Alaska. This is recommended for teaching.
  • Science
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS.ESS3.3 Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among the management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity.
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • HS.LS2.5 Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
      • HS.LS2.6 Evaluate claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
  • Social Sciences
    • Economics: Global Economy (9-12)
      • HS.24 Explain how current globalization trends and policies affect economic growth, labor markets, labor conditions, human rights, the environment, and resource and income distribution in different nations.
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