Press Releases

Nationwide Launch of Understory: A Journey Through the Tongass

A Cinematic Journey Into Alaska’s Threatened National Forest

TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, ALASKA (December 2, 2021) - Understory: A Journey Through the Tongass is a 40-minute-long film that takes us deep into Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest remaining temperate rainforest on the planet. The nationwide launch on December 7th arrives at a pivotal point for the future of this superpower ecosystem.  Through January 22, 2022, all U.S. citizens can participate in a 60-day public comment period urging the Biden administration to restore protections to the Tongass. Its ecological, economical, and cultural significance is far-reaching with consequences for us all and Understory paints a captivating picture that frames the importance of advocating on behalf of birds, wildlife and humankind.

The story follows Elsa Sebastian, a young local fisherman who grew up off-grid in a remote village surrounded by the vast, ancient forest. When Elsa learns that the United States government is axing environmental protections for 9-million acres of the Tongass, she is driven to action; first fixing up an old sailboat, and then setting sail on a 350-mile expedition along the coastal rainforest.

Elsa is joined by Dr. Natalie Dawson, the executive director of Audubon Alaska and a biologist who has spent decades studying Alaska wildlife, and Mara Menahan, a botanical illustrator. For a month the team documents old-growth trees threatened by logging, visits streams teeming with salmon, bears witness to the dark aftermath of clear-cuts and learns about indigenous cultural connections to the Tongass. As Elsa, Natalie, and Mara directly face the devastating impacts of the timber industry, they struggle to hold onto hope and realize that saving our last ancient rainforests is more urgent than they could have imagined.

 “Understory, the film, is the story of the Tongass as told through the voices of women who came together to speak about this place as our past, present and future forest. Too often, we relegate the Tongass to facts and numbers – these many acres of old growth forest cut, these many species of birds, mammals, fish found on its islands. But the archipelago’s stories are as diverse as its islands, and this film was our way of bringing some of these stories to the surface. Climate change, cultural history, livelihoods, beauty, become lenses through which we see these old and ancient forests in new ways,” said Natalie Dawson, executive director of Audubon Alaska.

Through breathtaking cinematography by director Colin Arisman and poignant personal experiences shared by powerful voices, this film makes the case that saving ancient forests like the Tongass is critical to both the resilience of humans and the future of our planet’s climate.  Audubon Alaska encourages you to watch Understory and share the story with family and friends to build support during this 60-day comment period to restore protections to the Tongass National Forest. 

Watch the film on December 7th and submit comments to the Biden Administration to restore protections to the Tongass by January 22nd:  

•    Full Film YouTube link: 

•    Take Action and personalize a message to the U.S. Forest Service with Audubon’s help.

•    Submit electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal:

•    Mail to: Alaska Roadless Rule, USDA Forest Service, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska 99802–1628

•    Hand Delivery / Courier to: Alaska Roadless Rule, USDA Forest Service, 709 W. 9th Street, Juneau, Alaska 99802

•    Email:

Understory is a film by Wild Confluence Media and Last Stands, and presented by Peak Design with support from Audubon Alaska, The Wilderness Society, Sitka Salmon Shares and Patagonia. 


Media Contact:

Katrina Peavey, Audubon Alaska,

About Audubon

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

Since 1977, Audubon Alaska has been conserving the spectacular natural ecosystems of Alaska for people, birds, and other wildlife. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters. Audubon Alaska is a state office of the National Audubon Society. Learn more at

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