Grounds crews to skunk potential tree thieves

PULLMAN, Wash.- Vandals shopping for Christmas trees on the Washington State University campus will be in for an unpleasant surprise when they get it home and start to hang the lights.

Grounds crews will begin spraying the trees Dec. 8 with a foul-smelling mixture that contains the oily liquid skunks produce in their scent glands. Thieves will not know whether a tree has been treated with the mixture until they get it indoors, which causes the scent to intensify.

Kappy Brun, WSU grounds supervisor, recalled one such incident. “They got the tree indoors, got it decorated and had to pull it outside on their lawn, decorations and all, because the scent became too much,” she said. “It was pretty obvious.”

Anyone caught in possession of a tree from campus will be charged with theft and will have to pay a fine of $250-$1,500, depending on the tree.

The spraying program began more than 13 years ago to discourage theft of trees on campus around Christmas time. Tree theft is most prevalent on the outskirts of campus, including along airport road.