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What is a Cadastral Survey?

The term "Cadastral Survey" is held to be those boundary surveys performed under the authority of Title 43 U.S.C. Cadastral surveys in general create, re-establish, mark, and define boundaries of tracts of land. The BLM is required to perform Cadastral Surveys on all Federal interest and Indian lands and all private land-claims. Such surveys cannot be ignored, repudiated, altered, or corrected, and the boundaries created or re-established cannot be changed so long as they control rights vested in the lands affected. The official record of a cadastral survey ordinarily consists of a "plat" and a written description of the field work, "field notes." The plat represents the lines surveyed, showing the direction and length of each line; the boundaries, descriptions and area of the parcel of land; and, as far as practicable, a delineation of the culture and improvements within the limits of the survey.

To this universal definition we add pertinent citations from the laws, leading (and often landmark) court decisions, and decisions of the Secretary of the Interior. All of these references are based upon the intent of the Ordinance of May 20, 1785, which established our rectangular survey system; several following amendatory statutes; and the regulations which were subsequently prepared as required by the laws.

There are three basic elements to any cadastral survey:

I. The initiating documents, which include:

A. A "request" with proper justification which is the basis for determining the validity of the survey and whether or not the survey is authorized by Law. Therefore, it should be written and a matter of record since it initiates a chain of official action.

B. The "Special Instructions" are prepared citing the pertinent authority, the appropriation of funding, the nature of the work to be performed, and specific instructions peculiar to that job which may not be covered in the Manual of Surveying Instructions. These instructions are considered legal documents.

C. The "Assignment Instructions" are also important in that they authorize the responsible employee(s) to execute the work cited in the Special Instructions.

These initiating documents are very important - often they are the most critically important part of a survey, many years after the survey has been officially accepted and approved.

II. The actual survey in the field and the preparation of the official records of the field work. 

Field work may take a day, or require years to complete depending on the size of the project and annual appropriations. The target timeframe is 18 months.

III. The official approval process, including filing and publication.

There is a process of fourteen steps which surveyors in the Bureau of Land Management must follow to complete a formal survey, to learn more about this process Click Here.

Protest or Appeal, of cadastral survey is a formal process, allowing objections to be raised by any person to any action proposed to be taken in any proceeding before the Bureau.  For more information about the Protest and Appeals process Click Here.

It should be quite obvious that a cadastral survey is much more than the mere measurement of distances and angles between monuments in the field. The role of the modern Cadastral Surveyor requires considerable technical and legal knowledge (Federal and State) in order to determine the extent and nature of private rights adjoining public or Indian lands. The results of the surveyors are legal documents and monuments which can only be obtained by a series of events possessing all of the above elements in their proper proportions, and in their proper order.