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'U' Resorts To Unusual Methods To Thwart Evergreen Thieves

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The University of Minnesota says "Grinches" steal evergreens from its campuses each winter to use as Christmas trees at home. Now, they're using an unusual method to thwart would-be thieves.

All you have to do is get close to a spruce, pine or really any evergreen on campus and you can smell why it's not a good idea to take one: The smell of skunk.

The University is using skunk spray to keep trees from being stolen.

Doug Lauer has been the Land Care Supervisor at the University for 15 years. For as many years, he's wondered why people would skip buying a Christmas tree to cut one down illegally on campus.

"A tree like this here cost $500 by the time you buy the tree, put it in the ground, water and maintain it for a year," Lauer said.

Some of the taller trees on campus cost as much as $3,000. That's why Lauer and his crew have resorted to unusual measures to protect the trees.

"We go out and we spray the pine trees and evergreens with skunk scent," Lauer said.

That's right. They apply latex gloves, take aim and spray a pumper full of skunk spray.

"It is pretty important to get the whole thing. At least that way they get what's coming I guess," worker Jason Johnson said.

For years, the University lost more than a dozen trees and thousands of dollars around the holidays.

"A lot of time on bigger trees you've seen where they've come in and taken the top three feet or so and left the rest of the tree," Johnson said.

Since the application process began, the numbers are dropping. All a thief has to do is get close and they know cutting down the tree could lead to a smelly situation.

"If somebody comes by and takes the tree bring it home and puts it in their house the skunk smell will fill their whole house with that odor," Lauer said.

The skunk spray and the addition of cameras almost everywhere you look have worked. Last year, the University lost zero trees to thieves.

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