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Grades 9-12
High school students should be encouraged to think about possible solutions to the environmental degradation that humans can cause, and to the ways in which people can work together to protect the environment from further negative human impacts. They also need to think about the root causes of tropical rain forest degradation (i.e. poverty, population growth, exploitation, and debt) in addition to the more obvious, immediate causes (i.e. logging).

This lesson asks students to examine the human impacts that conservationist Michael Fay noticed on his Congo Trek , and Africa MegaFlyover projects as well as the areas that are so far free from human impacts. Students will write recommendations to the region's governments and businesses, explaining what should be done about human impacts and considering some of the underlying causes for environmental threats.

Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, ecology, conservation
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 14: "How human actions modify the physical environment"
Standard 18: "How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future"
Three hours

Materials Required:
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Wall map of the world or Africa
  • Large piece of poster paper or board
  • Writing and drawing materials
  • Colored push pins or pieces of construction paper
Students will
  • name threats to the rain forest;
  • read about and discuss some of the underlying causes of rain forest destruction;
  • read Congo Trek field reports, take notes on the terrain, species, and human impacts of this region, and write summaries of their findings;
  • use a student-created map to illustrate human impacts in the Congo region; and
  • write recommendations to political and business leaders about what should be done about human-impact issues in this region.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Ask students to name some threats to the rain forest . They might suggest logging or poaching, and perhaps agriculture or mining. Based on what they have already learned about the rain forest, ask them to describe some of the reasons why these activities cause problems for the environment.

Explain to the class that the causes of deforestation are rather complex. Although logging is a primary issue, other factors play a part as well. Have students visit the two Web sites below to learn about some of the underlying causes of rain forest destruction. As they read, ask them to take notes to answer the question "What are the causes of deforestation in the tropical rain forest?" Then discuss their findings as a class.

The Causes of Rain Forest Destruction What Are Underlying Causes of Deforestation?

Ask one or two students who have some artistic ability to draw a large map of the Congo Trek region on a piece of poster paper or board (they can use the Xpeditions atlas for a simple outline to copy or trace). They can figure out the route by looking at the Trek Viewer (click on "Dispatches & Map") and its underlying map. They should draw the Congo and Oubangui Rivers for reference and then outline the trek route. They may want to refer to an atlas or a larger map for clarification.

Divide the class into small groups, and divide the 76 Congo Trek field reports evenly so that each group is assigned approximately the same number of reports, focusing on a particular part of the Congo River Basin. Ask each group to go through its assigned field reports and take notes on the following things:

  • The approximate location on the trek map.
  • What the terrain is like.
  • The particular animals and plants the team encounters.
  • The human impacts Fay notices, and his comments on these impacts.
  • Fay's comments when he notices a lack of human impact in an area.
  • The conservation successes Fay notices.
Have groups write brief summaries of their portion of the trek in preparation for presenting the information they have learned to the class.

Ask groups to share their portions of the trek with the rest of the class. As they mention the human impacts, have them use colored push pins or small "buttons" of construction paper to mark on the map the types of human impact the team encountered in the specified regions. They should designate one color for logging activities, one for poaching activities, and one for other human impacts.
Suggested Student Assessment:
Have groups pretend they have been hired to work with Fay as consultants to political and business leaders in the Congo region. Have them write reports to these leaders on what they think the priorities for the entire region should be. Their reports should:
  • explain which areas of the trek region need the most immediate attention;
  • describe the human activities in these important areas and the steps that can be taken to help protect them;
  • explain the overall approaches they think should be taken over the next five years to help preserve this rain forest (a short-term plan); and
  • explain the overall approaches they think should be taken over the next 50 years to help preserve this rain forest (a long-term plan).
The following resources will provide students with further information:

Rainforest Action Network Congo Democratic Republic

Extending the Lesson:
  • Have students conduct a similar research project with the Africa MegaFlyover project, using the field dispatches, photo gallery, and other resources available to learn about ecosystems and conservation efforts in Africa.

  • Have students explore National Geographic's Virtual World: Rainforest at Night feature and compare what they learn about the rain forest in Borneo to the Congo rain forest.

  • Have students go back to Fay's field reports and find excerpts that refer to the colonial era (such as report 49 from August 7, 2000). What does Fay feel is the legacy of the colonial era for this region? Have students research the colonial era and report on the ways in which Europeans impacted the Congo's people and environment. Ask them to include a discussion of the ways in which the effects of the colonial era are still felt in this region today.
Related Links: