Christmas tree poachers beware.
If you chop down that perfect evergreen in a park, along a highway or even on private property, you may end up with a pungent surprise.
To ward off the evergreen rustlers, more parks organizations and even individual homeowners have taken to spraying their trees with deer repellent, which, if taken indoors, can stink up a house or anything it comes in contact with for days.
Bruce M. Miller, a park ranger at the B&A Trail, said maintenance staff started spraying trees along the trail with deer repellent two years ago.
"We've had to modify its use," Miller said of the product. "It's meant to keep the deer away, but we use it to keep the humans away."
Miller said he's taken at least 15 calls in the past two weeks from other park organizations and individual home owners wanting to know where he gets the repellent and how it works.
Most callers have become aware of the program from signs posted along the trail warning potential thieves.
The county's Department of Recreation and Parks recently posted signs along Dorsey Road and Ritchie Highway stating that trees planted inmedian strips had been sprayed as well.
"Go to any park this timeof year and you'll notice a couple of missing trees," said Miller. He said he finds it hard to believe people would chop down park trees when they can buy Christmas trees for $20, but some continue to do so.
The B&A trail has not yet lost any trees to thieves, Miller said, but he speculates that it is because they were too small when planted two or three years ago.
Now that many have grown to desirable Christmas tree height, however, Miller believes they could become prime targets. So, staffers have sprayed hundreds of trees along more than 13 miles of trail, a job that takes two workers two days to complete.
Spraying is worth the time and expense because the cost to replace even three or four trees would be as much, Miller said.
Millerguessed it is a small group of people stealing trees and now that trees are being sprayed, the group will diminish.
"After they do it once, they won't do it again," he said.
The spray, which maintainsits potency for about three weeks, has an odor that Miller describedas "worse than a skunk." When sprayed trees are brought indoors, thewarm air intensifies the odor, he said.
Magic Circle Deer Repellent and others like it were developed to keep deer from nibbling on crops, trees and shrubbery, said John Asaro, marketing director for BenMeadows Co., a distributor in Atlanta, Ga.
Asaro stressed that the Ben Meadows Co., distributors of several deer repellent products, does not endorse the use of their product as people repellent.
The Magic Circle label warns that the product, which contains bone tar oil, should not come in contact with skin or eyes.
"Its intended useis to repel deer," Asaro said. "We are not interested in pursuing that other use at all."
The company, which sells equipment and products to natural resource managers, makes most of its sales to foresters and environmental scientists.
"We try to deal only with professionals, but there's really no way to prevent (others) from buying it,"Asaro said.
Word has been spreading about using the repellents asevergreen theft protection, he said, and he is not sure how to reverse the trend.
Asaro said he planned to have sales representatives monitor calls temporarily to determine how many people were ordering the product to protect trees from theft. Depending on the results, company officials will determine if any action is required, he said.