Forest Management Tech Tips Logo of USDA Technology & Development Program
April 1999
2400 9924 1303—SDTDC


Eric Shilling, Mechanical Engineering Technician

Each year Forest Service employees use thousands of gallons of specialized paint to designate trees and cutting unit boundaries in their forest management activities. This paint contains unique chemical tracers to deter and detect timber theft, and is specially formulated to minimize health risks, while at the same time providing adequate performance when stored and used in adverse weather conditions.
Figure 1—Forest Service employee marking a tree.
Figure 1—Forest Service employee marking a tree.

This Tech Tip provides general guidelines for the procurement, storage, handling, and use of Forest Service Tree-Marking Paint. Figure 1 illustrates a Forest Service (FS) employee marking a tree. For the most current information on tree-marking paint, check the FS intranet Web site for the San Dimas Technology and Development Center (SDTDC) at:

All orders for tree-marking paint must be made through General Services Administration (GSA). National Stock Numbers (NSNs) can be found in the GSA catalog, figure 2. Be sure to doublecheck the NSN before transmitting your order to GSA. Large amounts of the wrong color or type of paint could be received if the NSN is listed incorrectly. Paint orders are shipped directly from the Light House for the Blind (LHB) packaging facility in St. Louis, MO.
Figure 2—GSA catalog.
Figure 2—GSA catalog.

The two main considerations to keep in mind when storing tree-marking paint with tracer are safety and security. Forest Service tree-marking paint is a flammable liquid and must be stored properly to decrease fire risk.

Flammable-liquid storage cabinets are available from most safety supply companies. The local fire department can verify that the storage facility complies with local codes and regulations.

For security purposes, tracer paint must be stored in a locked area away from other nontracer paints. Tracer paint must be kept in a locked tool box when transported, unattended, or not in use. Locks keyed differently from standard Forest Service locks must be used to secure tracer paint. Used cans with paint residue must be secured to protect the tracer until the residue has hardened. Because cleanup solutions will retain some tracer, they must be locked up until proper disposal.

Organize the paint to allow quick and easy inventory. The inventory must also be carefully maintained. If an inventory form is not being used, one should be prepared.

Shelf Life
Forest Service tree-marking paint is formulated to have a 1-year shelf life. Plan orders to avoid exceeding this limit. Paint that has been in storage for more than a year requires additional shaking or stirring before use. Remember that once the paint is applied, it is intended to last 6 years under exposure to harsh environments. Not only must the mark stay visible and recognizable, but the tracer systems in the paint also must be functional. Old paint may lose its effectiveness when it is needed the most.
Figure 3—The SDTDC can puncturer.
Figure 3—The SDTDC can puncturer.

Health & Safety Forest Service tree-marking paint contains solvents. These solvents can pose a health hazard if the user is overexposed to them. Markers must take certain precautions to avoid overexposure, as detailed in the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), which can be downloaded from the FSWeb at:

Forest Service tree-marking paint contains two tracer systems. One is a field tracer system which allows the paint to be positively identified in the field (figure 4). A drop of liquid reagent chemical is placed on the suspect paint. Forest Service paint is identifiable by a specific color change of the reagent. The second system uses a laboratory tracer which requires sophisticated laboratory equipment to identify the paint.

Both tracer systems are intended to aid in the detection and deterrence of timber theft. Consequently, the specific details of the tracer ingredients and detection methods are carefully controlled.

Standard Color Scheme
The Forest Service is developing a standard color scheme for the designation of timber. There are plans to have a transition period for complete standardization nationally.

Spray Techniques
Spray technique can have a significant effect on exposure to the paint and its components. To minimize exposure, keep in mind the following tips from experienced markers.
Figure 4—Field identification of tracer paint.
Figure 4—Field identification of tracer paint.

  • First and foremost: pay attention to the wind direction.
  • Work towards the upwind direction to keep exposure to vapors and mist to a minimum.
  • Make stump marks first to avoid bending over and coming in contact with mist from the trunk mark.
  • Do not stand further than 5 feet from the tree.
  • The closer the marker is to the tree, the less paint is suspended in the air, and more is applied to the tree. Less paint is wasted and there is not a haze of paint mist in the air that increases exposure to vapors and other paint ingredients.
  • Pulling the trigger too fast and too hard increases the paint velocity and tends to break up the stream and cause misting (figure 5).
Experiment with the gun to find a spraying technique that prevents or minimizes stream breakup and paint atomization. SDTDC is conducting some experiments with nozzle shapes and stream velocities in an attempt to optimize spray pattern and minimize misting. Simple tips like these might seem trivial, but when marking trees full time, these small steps that decrease your exposure can make a big difference.
Figure 5—Mist from paint stream.
Figure 5—Mist from paint stream.

Figure 6—Three tree-marking paint guns, Panama backpack system is not shown.
Figure 6—Three tree-marking paint guns, Panama backpack system is not shown.

Application Options
Several traditional type marking guns are on the market. Nelspot, TreCoder, Idico, and the Panama backpack system are examples shown in figure 6.

Those people who have a higher sensitivity to the paint might want to experiment with different methods of application. One option might be to use a pressurized backpack system with a longer, wand-type sprayer that allows the marker to get the nozzle closer to the tree and further from the face.
Figure 7—Do not use WD-40 or gasoline for cleanup.
Figure 7—Do not use WD-40 or gasoline for cleanup.

Do the cleaning outside when possible. Do not use solvents or products intended for other purposes such as WD-40, gasoline, and so on (figure 7). These products increase the risk of adverse health effects. Refer to the current JHA for the required personal protective equipment.

Remove paint that has come in contact with your skin before the paint has had a chance to dry. Waterless hand cleaners seem to work well and can be used at the jobsite. Follow up with a soap-and-water washing at the office or at home. Do not use solvents for personal cleanup. The new water- soluble formulations currently being field tested require only water for cleanup, thus reducing exposure to solvents. It is best to avoid skin contact by using gloves, long sleeves, and so on.

Documentation of how a timber sale is marked is critical when it comes to an investigation by law enforcement services. Markers need to record the paint color and batch number, and keep a small dried sample of each paint used on the sale stored in a locked file. This will make forensic analysis much easier, if necessary at a later date. Examples of a cruiser’s tally card and paint inventory form are included in the appendix.

Law Enforcement Training
Forest Service Law Enforcement has a four-module training program that will soon be available to Forest Service employees.

Module 1 is entitled “Timber Theft Prevention” and is intended for timber management, and law enforcement personnel.

Module 2 is entitled “Basic Timber Theft Investigation and Detection” and is intended for law enforcement officers and timber sale administrators.

Module 3 is entitled “Advanced Timber Theft Investigation” and is intended for experienced special agents.

Module 4 is entitled “Timber Theft for Managers” and is intended for line officers, district rangers, and forest supervisors.

For additional information regarding this training program, contact Kim Thorsen, law enforcement advisor to the National Tree-Marking Paint Committee at 703–235–5918.

The National Tree-Marking Paint Committee is a subcommittee of the Forest Management Technology Committee established and organized to provide a forum for the interchange of information and knowledge from various disciplines supporting tree-marking activities. The committee also provides a structure and mechanism for achieving improvements in tree-marking paint technology as they relate to timber sale preparation.

Each region of the Forest Service has a representative on the national committee. When you cannot find answers or need help with tree-marking issues on your forest, contact your regional representative.
R1......Doug Jones..................208–347–0336
R2......George Broyles............605–642–4622
R3......Richard Stephens........520–527–3650
R4......Doug Jones..................208–347–0336
R5......Karen Jones.................916–587–5405
R6......Frank Duran.................503–808–2970
R8......R.E. Vann.....................706–632–3031
R9......Larry Mellstrom............906–852–3500
R10....Bob Simmons..............907–228–6312

TD logo
For Additional Information Contact:
Forest Management Program Leader
San Dimas Technology and Development Center
444 East Bonita Avenue, San Dimas CA 91773-3198
Phone 909-599-1267; TDD: 909-599-2357; FAX: 909-592-2309

Information contained in this document has been developed for the guidance of employees of the Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), its contractors, and cooperating Federal and State agencies. The USDA assumes no responsibility for the interpretation or use of this information by other than its own employees. The use of trade, firm, or corporation names is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official evaluation, conclusion, recommendation, endorsement, or approval of any product or service to the exclusion of others that may be suitable.

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