Evergreen Tree Winter

MOSCOW, ID - Everyone enjoys the smell of the holidays: fresh-baked cookies, cinnamon and cloves, fresh-cut evergreens, skunk scent and fox urine. At least those last two aromas are what the season will smell like for anyone tempted to cut down a Christmas tree from the University of Idaho’s Moscow campus.

Each year, the landscape crew at U of I sprays about 100 trees on campus with a natural repellent of skunk scent and fox urine, as well as a sticking agent, to protect them from theft and destruction during the holiday season.

The repellent is fairly innocuous while outdoors in colder temperatures but becomes apparent quickly once brought indoors, causing it to emit a repugnant odor that will remain in the room and on furniture for a long time, said Charles Zillinger, director of Landscape and Exterior Services at U of I Facilities. The repellent stays on the trees for about four weeks, depending on the weather, and doesn’t harm the evergreens or the environment.

The cost of replacing landscape evergreens ranges from $500 to $2,500, depending on the size, location and species of the tree on campus. “Protecting these trees from needless destruction is critical,” Zillinger said, adding that, if a tree is taken, it’s a huge loss for the university landscape. “We have a beautiful, green campus here at the University of Idaho, and it’s important that it remain that way. We take the job of protecting these trees from theft during the holiday very seriously.”

The tree-spraying program began in 1990 and has drastically reduced the number of tree thefts that have occurred on campus. Prior to the treatment program, U of I lost four or five evergreens each holiday season. Today, signs are posted around campus to deter would-be thieves, but not all treated trees are marked. U of I Public Safety and Security and the Moscow Police Department are also notified of the yearly protection program. Stealing or vandalizing an evergreen on campus could result in a felony charge.