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UI Using Skunk Spray and Fox Urine to Protect Campus Trees

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Everyone enjoys fresh baked cookies, cinnamon, cloves, and fresh cut evergreens during the holiday season. But what about the smell of skunk and fox urine in your home. That's what you might get a whiff of if you take a tree from the University of Idaho campus.

Before 1990, around half a dozen University of Idaho campus trees were cut down every year and used as Christmas trees. But since then, the University has used an approach to stop people from taking trees,

"We've been using a concoction of skunk scent, fox urine, and glycol," says UI Landscape and Exterior Services Director Charles Zillinger.

It's their holiday-picking repellent, if you will, to protect the trees. When sprayed, it dissipates, and it's only noticed when it's taken into an environment where the smell can evaporate, like inside a house.

There are over 200 evergreen trees that have been sprayed on the UI campus. Within just a few feet of the center of the tree, you can just barely smell the repellant on the trunk. But if you try to take a tree into your house, the smell isn’t so nice.

"You know what a skunk smells like when you pass it on the road. It's like that only intensified in a small contained space. In the cold weather, you don’t really notice it outside, but if you bring it into a warm environment, the skunk scent and fox urine will volatize, and will leak out, and it smells really bad."

Charles Zillinger says the smell is more than enough to stop people in their tracks. But if they do take one, it isn’t just the smell they're going to have to worry about.

"Cause once you take a tree in, and it starts to volatize, it sticks to furniture, to carpet, to any fabric of any kind, and you will usually have to throw those things away since the smell is so bad."

Zillinger says since the spraying began over 25 years ago, only 3 or 4 trees have been cut down and stolen total. Stealing or vandalizing a tree can also result in a felony charge. Zillinger encourages anyone who needs a Christmas tree to go to a tree farm, because replacing a tree on campus can cost over a thousand dollars.

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