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Don’t Get Skunked: U of I Sprays Evergreens to Deter Christmas Tree Thefts

December 04, 2017

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 200 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 volatizes quickly once indoors and emits 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 and doesn’t harm the evergreens or the environment.

Signs are posted around campus to deter would-be thieves, but not all treated trees are marked. The cost of replacing landscape evergreens ranges from $500 to $1,000, depending on the species and location of the tree on campus.

“Protecting these trees from needless destruction is critical,” Zillinger said. “U of I Security and the Moscow Police Department are also notified about our yearly protection program.”

Stealing or vandalizing an evergreen on campus could result in a felony charge.

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 would lose four or five evergreens each holiday season.

Anyone with knowledge about campus tree thefts should notify the Moscow Police Department immediately by calling 208-882-2677.

Media Contact:
Charles M. Zillinger
Facilities, University of Idaho

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at