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MINNEAPOLIS - Jeremy Chmielewski thought his boss was kidding when he was given his work assignment for the week.

Who, besides a skunk, would deposit skunk spray on otherwise pine-fresh evergreens? Turns out Chmielewski, that's who.

Dressed in a disposable jump suit and waving a spray wand, the University of Minnesota gardener works his way down a row of spruce trees near TCF Bank Stadium.

"It's skunk spray," Chmielewski confirms. "It's 100 percent skunk spray."

The spray is meant to deter thieves who might help themselves to one of the university's landscape evergreens.

Think no one would be so bold? Five campus evergreen trees were cut down around the holidays last year - one of them a 20-footer was cut 5 feet off the ground.

"You'd think Christmas, you wouldn't have people stealing Christmas trees off public land, but they do," said Doug Lauer, a land care supervisor at the U of M. "It's a sad deal."

University Landscapers started using the skunk spray as a deterrent several years back, but suspended spraying about five years ago.

"We figured urban legend would cover us for a while," said Lauer.

But when the sawdust settled last Christmas, five trees were gone and it was clear the U of M needed to raise a stink again.

A Christmas tree-sized evergreen can cost the University as much as $500 to buy it, plant it and mulch it. A similar tree at Christmas tree lot could be had for 50 bucks.

It does mean Chmielewski has had to put up with a little ribbing.

"Some of my co-workers were going to tape a black and white tail on my cart," he said.

Bad as the smell is for Chmielewski, he says it will be worse for anyone foolish enough to try to move one of the sprayed trees into a home or apartment.

Stink, Stank, Skunk.

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