Smelly surprise awaits tree thieves

The oil is made from the natural ingredient skunks spray. It is most commonly used by hunters as a cover scent.

Facilities Management gardener Mark Hanson knows he is low in the hierarchy.

“Every Ö job that comes down the pipe has my name on it,” he said.

Last week, Hanson had his smelliest job yet. With just a pair of gloves and goggles for protection, he trekked across the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, spraying spruce trees with skunk scent.

After losing seven trees to thieves last year, the University is hoping to discourage Christmas tree theft on campus this year by coating evergreens with the skunk scent.

Armed with two gallons of the liquid repellent and a foot-long spraying wand, Hanson misted more than 70 trees last week.

Facilities Management support supervisor Doug Lauer said thieves last year took smaller trees completely and hacked the tops off larger trees, leaving them deformed and awkward-looking.

It would cost the University $6,300 to replace the missing and deformed trees with baby spruce trees, Lauer said.

Facilities Management support supervisor Jim Blake came up with the skunk-scent idea after thieves stole spruce trees from his personal farm.

The Facilities Management landcare department bought 12 ounces of the skunk spray from Murray’s Lures and Trapping Supplies in West Virginia – which cost $4 per ounce. The solution sprayed on the trees is one ounce of oil mixed with one gallon of water.

Store owner Don Murray said the oil is made from the natural ingredient skunks spray. It is most commonly used by hunters as a cover scent.

Murray said he has never heard of anyone spraying skunk oil on trees, but once the scent settles, it stays.

“They wouldn’t want that tree in their house,” he said.

Lauer said the department tested the spray on trees on the edge of campus to make sure the smell was tolerable.

He said within hours of spraying, the cold weather masks the skunk odor. But once a tree is brought inside, it warms up and releases the scent.

Lauer said as long as there are no complaints about the smell, the department will continue spraying toward the center of campus until all the spruce trees are covered.

“We’ll only hit a tree that’s a potential Christmas tree,” Lauer said.

After Christmas, the department will evaluate how well the spray worked based on the number of spruce trees cut down or deformed, Lauer said.

It would cost the University $6,300 to replace spruce trees stolen or damaged last winter with similar trees, not baby trees.