What can run a feral, East Campus cat off a liver truck and save a few trees in the process?
Fox urine sprayed on pine and spruce trees might not make much sense to some people who know the beauty of East Campus' Arboretum. But to the landscaping staff at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it's a front-line tool against tree-nabbing.
Jeff Culbertson, manager for landscape services on East Campus, said young evergreens with a typical Christmas tree shape sometimes are cut down and stolen by people who put the trees in their homes for the holidays.
"When you can buy a Christmas tree for $10, it makes you wonder why someone would do that," Culbertson said. "It's easier just to pick one out."
A mixture of fox urine, glycerin, water and dye usually is applied to trees just before Thanksgiving, he said. While it doesn't have much of an odor in wintry temperatures, the smell quickly can become intolerable in the confines of a warm house.
"It's as rancid as if you had cat urine all over your house. The smell is eye-watering," he said.
Still, about one or two trees are cut down a year, he said.
UNL landscaping services announces the tree-spraying program in the Daily Nebraskan and on local radio stations, but the ads don't reach everyone, he said.
"Once the trees are past seven or eight feet tall and no longer have that classic, Christmas tree shape, we're not so worried about someone taking them," he said. "Trees that are four, five and six feet tall cause the most concern because they can easily be cut down in three or four minutes with a little handsaw."
Tops of larger trees sometimes go missing, too, he said.
The most egregious tree-stealing episode occurred when members of a fraternity stole a tree to display in their house's front window, he said.
"I think the police caught them by following the drag marks through the snow," he said.
The technique is not new. For about 20 years, landscaping services at UNL has been spraying its trees with the mixture.
Jerry Shorney, assistant director of Lincoln Parks and Recreation, said with about 100 parks to supervise, spraying the trees had been an effective turn-off to would-be tree poachers.
"Several years ago, we were losing about 15 or 20 trees a year," Shorney said. "We've been doing this about 10 years, and that number has dramatically decreased. Now we lose about one or two a year."
Like UNL, the department advertises on the radio and in the newspapers. Unlike UNL, the department takes an extra step of posting signs at park entrances to educate visitors, he said.
"There's no way to tell everyone, but we try to let the majority of folks know about the program," Shorney said.