The grinch that stole Christmas trees Evergreen thieves: Government uses smelly repellent to deter folks who think trees are free.

December 19, 1997

FOR THE PAST DECADE, Anne Arundel County landscape and maintenance workers have engaged in a holiday ritual.

They spray deer repellent on evergreens located on public property.

They aren't worried about browsing deer. Their concern is two-legged animals cutting these trees down for their holiday decorations.

If these trees get cut illegally and moved into warm surroundings, such as a living room, the repellent emits a stench that smells like burning hair. This technique has reduced the theft of trees to a negligible level.

Anne Arundel is not the only jurisdiction that must contend with pTC people who think that public property is a cost-free version of cut-your-own tree farms. Other counties have been hit with tree thieves, too.

Baltimore forestry officials also spray orange washable paint on the city's best-looking trees to protect them from would-be celebrants.

Some private landowners have also lost evergreens. Most of the poaching of trees from private property consists of people making forays into woods rather than chopping down trees in landscaped areas.

Something is terribly wrong with our civic life if local governments have to go to such extremes to protect public greenery from vandalism. It is difficult to understand how anyone would think that a nicely-shaped tree on a median strip is theirs for the taking.

This self-centered view of the world may explain why too many of our communities seem so hostile and threatening.

It may also explain why some boaters dump human waste into the bay or homeowners pour toxic chemicals down storm drains. It's every man or woman for himself or herself. There is no consideration of the sum of individual actions.

Replacing a six-foot pine tree costs about $250. People who take these trees are stealing from the rest of us.

Vandals who would cut down evergreens on median strips, bike trails or on the grounds of public buildings are probably the same folks who consider the roads and sidewalks as their private garbage receptacles.

They have a very selfish and skewed notion that public space exists for their benefit.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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