A prominent forest field trip exchange turned a new leaf and ventured west this year.

NAU’s School of Forestry is hosting students from Yale University and the University of Munich during a forest field trip exchange that provides hands-on experiences learning in different forests around the world.

“The field trip groups have visited other North American forests before, but many of the visitors have never seen the Southwest, the Grand Canyon, a 2 million-acre ponderosa pine forest, or NAU,” said Alex Finkral, an assistant professor in NAU’s School of Forestry. “The sprawling west will blow the minds of these students. Here you can drive about 15 minutes outside of Flagstaff and find yourself alone—that just doesn’t happen in Germany, or even in New England.”

The forest exchange between Yale and the University of Munich is more than 20 years old. This year it includes 22 students from each school, said Finkral, who finished his doctorate degree at Yale and was involved in the field trip exchange program for more than a decade before moving to NAU in August.

“I came here because NAU has one of the best forestry programs in the country,” he said. “Not only will our visitors learn about this amazing area, they will learn about our forestry programs as well.”

The goals of the forestry exchange are to expose students to different ecosystems and parts of the world while providing an inter-cultural exchange on how Europeans and Americans view forestry.

According to Finkral, much of modern forest science in America comes from Germany, where they have been formally studying forests for hundreds of years. “The history of forest use in Europe has been documented for a long time,” he said. “Many German families have passed forests on from generation to generation, a tradition that has provided significant data.”

Finkral, along with other forestry staff and faculty members, tapped into NAU’s resources to provide the group with an informative two-week itinerary that concludes June 3. The group visited desert landscapes and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, attended a day of discovery hosted by the Ecological Research Institute on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and traveled to the White Mountain Apache reservation where they were hosted by NAU forestry alumnus Paul DeClay Jr.

While in Flagstaff this week, the group will be exposed to the ecology and management of local forests and meet with the Flagstaff Fire Department about forest management issues in the wildland urban interface.