Evergreen trees grace forests, campuses, and lawns around the region. Much to the dismay of landscapers and gardeners, some of those trees disappear this time of year, stolen by someone who may not quite get the idea of Christmas cheer. But some universities have found a way to fight tree rustlers. It involves a foul-smelling concoction that makes thieves regret taking a tree. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has the recipe for this nasty, yet effective repellant:
Evergreen trees grace forests, campuses, and lawns around the region. And much to the dismay of landscapers and gardeners, some of those trees disappear this time of year, stolen by someone who may not quite get the idea of Christmas cheer. But some universities have found a way to fight tree-rustlers. It involves a foul-smelling concoction that makes thieves regret taking a tree. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Rebecca Williams has the recipe for this nasty, yet effective repellant:
About fifteen years ago, landscape managers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln had a big problem. Tree thieves were cutting down the best conifers on campus. And the landscapers were getting calls from local residents, whose trees were also disappearing. Dennis Adams is a forester at the University of Nebraska.
“It’d be, you know, trees that have good Christmas tree form, so blue spruce, concolor fir, some of the pines – white pine, scotch pine.”
Some thieves were easy to track. Jeff Culbertson is a landscape manager at the university. He says students were stealing trees during Thanksgiving break… and they weren’t always perfect criminals…
“We’ve had instances where the students, I guess didn’t do a good job or didn’t think anybody cared, but you could find the dragged marks of the tree through the snow to their fraternity or dormitory or something like that so in those cases I think it was pretty easy for them to figure out where the tree went.”
Campus trees are worth hundreds of dollars, so the university was eager to find a solution. Dennis Adams discovered a solution… literally. He found the recipe in an old magazine… 1 part glycerine, 10 parts water, and 2 parts… fox urine.
Jeff Culbertson says the fox urine makes Christmas tree thieves think twice…
“It doesn’t really smell like skunk. Maybe like an extremely strong cat urine sort of smell. Or dog, something that’s very concentrated. But you know normally you’re not going to smell that. So it’s pretty pungent.”
Culbertson says since the University of Nebraska began spraying conifers in the 80s, they haven’t lost many trees. He sprays 50 to 100 Christmas-tree size evergreens each year. He used to wear a plastic spray suit, but now he just keeps the wind at his back.
“When I do the fox urine, I don’t have many volunteers that want to help me with that. So I take on upon myself to do it. They mostly stand away from me, and they probably don’t talk to me too much that day either.”
Culbertson says there is one problem with this technique… when it’s cold out, you don’t notice the smell. So he started adding a dye… he sprays blue or red stripes on the trees where he sprays the fox urine. He says it makes the trees that much less attractive, and serves as a warning. And each year, the university lets the local papers know they’re spraying fox urine again.
But if a thief still chops down a tree and drags it into his house … Culbertson says he won’t likely do it again.
“It would be a smell that you’d have a hard time getting rid of.”
Culbertson recommends the method to anyone with a lot of trees to protect. He says the repellant is pretty affordable, and normally wears off after the Christmas season. Most of the supplies, sometimes even fox urine, can be bought at a garden store.
“I use a small, 3 gallon bottle sprayer, typical sort of garden sprayer people would purchase at the hardware store, garden center… And I try to use hot water. The glycerin is very syrupy kind of like corn syrup. So it helps to loosen it up, heat it up and make it less thick. I mix it up, take it out, and just spray the trees by hand.”
Both Jeff Culbertson and Dennis Adams think thieves are just looking for a cheap tree. But Adams still finds the thefts a little unbelievable.
“I think people have to be pretty desperate to steal a tree for Christmas. That seems like it’s kind of in the anti-Christmas spirit to steal.” (Laughs)
Other campus managers, meanwhile…have cooked up their own people repellant. The University of Idaho adds a few ounces of skunk scent. It makes their mix even more memorable.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Rebecca Williams.