The coyote has left its mark on the University of Idaho’s trees.
Eau de urine - a scent so pungent that its rancid odor lingers for weeks once inside the cozy confines of a home, apartment or dorm room.
UI landscape crews treated all evergreens of Christmas-tree size on the Moscow campus with the potent natural repellent last week to prevent them from being cut during the holidays.
“It’s a good deterrent, it’s cheap and the payback is really good,” said Charles Zillinger, assistant director of facilities management.
“If somebody does steal the tree, they really don’t get to enjoy it. It would reek, and the odor will linger a long time.”
More campuses nationwide are paying $8 to $12 per gallon for coyote, fox or skunk urine to protect their trees at Christmastime. It takes just six gallons, mixed with water and a sticking agent, to cover all of the UI’s vulnerable trees.
The university began its smelly theft-deterrent program in 1990 after landscaping staff became fed up with losing up to five trees per year at Christmas. The school has two arboretums with many different species of young trees.
Washington State University has a similar program, though one WSU public relations spokesperson joked that the only thing anyone at WSU can smell right now is roses, referring to WSU’s upcoming Rose Bowl game.
Since starting the repellent programs, fewer of the two schools’ nurtured seedlings have been lost. And the suckers who do steal pay a putrid price.
The concoction is sprayed on the trees and remains there through the winter, until eventually washed away by snow and rain.
While the odor is undetectable outside in the cool air, once taken inside the trees begin emitting a horrible stench.
Last year, the UI used skunk urine. But it was coyote tinkle that pharmaceutical companies had on sale this year.
“It was the cheapest bid,” Zillinger said. “They all stink and that’s all we are interested in.”
The UI posts notices of the repellent in local newspapers, as well as all the fraternities, sororities and residence halls. Then, crews wait for a calm day, with as little wind as possible, Zillinger said.
“You always spray with the wind at your back.”