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The Real World Comes to Oregon Oregon/Washington BLM



The Real World Comes to Oregon

The BLM, the official Federal land record keeper for the last two centuries, helps train future cadastral experts to survey for the next 200 years.

story by Kyle Hensley and John Farnsworth
photos by John Farnsworth

According to the Klamath Indians, Klamath Falls sits at the "...land where falling waters rush." Also at Klamath Falls sits the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) where an innovative program brings together the Federal Government and students to conduct real world in-the-field cadastral work.

OK, so what is cadastral work and why would the BLM need students to help with this program?

Good question.

Cadastral surveys deal with one of the oldest and most fundamental facets of human society - the ownership of land. Simply put, cadastral surveys create, mark, define, retrace, or reestablish the boundaries and subdivisions of public lands in the United States. More importantly, these surveys are the foundation upon which rest the title of all land that is now, or was once, part of the Public Domain of the United States.

Yep. They're that important.

So why the Oregon Institute of Technology? Well, OIT had the first four-year surveying program established in the U.S. And ever since the school's inception more than 60 years ago, OIT has continually built a relationship between its students and the Cadastral Survey Program at the BLM. Students need to learn this all-important skill, and the BLM needs help in getting work done on the ground. To date, approximately 230 surveying graduates are currently or have been employed with the BLM. And OIT alumni constitute about half of the BLM's nation-wide surveying staff.

That's a whole lot of surveyors. And a whole lot of Oregon experience.

As an educational institution, OIT has long been known for its hands-on instructional approach. So BLM retiree and now Assistant Professor Tim Kent discussed the idea of having the students of the Senior Practicum course conduct a real-world Federal authority survey. This level of experience had never been undertaken before. So some serious salesmanship talks began. And soon contact was made with the BLM offices in Lakeview and Klamath Falls to identify a project area with real value to their mission to secure support and limited funding for the project.

The Real World Comes to Oregon
photo by John Farnsworth

You're probably scratching your head right about now. Students? Doing Federal surveys? Yes. But everyone realized that this survey would need an official "request for survey." So the Lakeview BLM provided it. Next, the survey required special instructions before it could be assigned to the field to determine how the work was to be accomplished. The survey itself was assigned to Karen Schank, the BLM's lead land surveyor in Medford, Oregon. Karen's responsibility was then to ensure the survey was conducted under the 1973 Manual of Surveying Instructions as well as other rules and regulations pertaining to this specific situation. The BLM would handle the role of the Senior Practicum class much the same as if they were a professional contractor conducting a land survey for the BLM.

Ultimately an official contract with all the trimmings was created. This accomplished two things. First, it helped Karen make certain that the field work would be done correctly by laying out GPS and conventional traverse specifications, monument establishment rules, and line marking specifications. And secondly, it taught the students a real example of a work contract.

At the start of the field season, the work began with courthouse research and corner search - determining the corners of the property. Next the logistics of the field work required schedule planning as each student had other projects and class assignments to complete. Then once the lines were surveyed on the ground, the closures were calculated and checked. All field work and calculations were inspected by the BLM to confirm it met the specifications of the contract.

In the end, the survey project accomplished several different things. First and foremost, the students were involved in a real-life surveying situation. They had to follow the specifics of a contract and conduct real field work - all while juggling class assignments and their personal lives. Secondly, the BLM received a Federal-authority survey to define the boundaries of an upcoming timber sale. And finally, the Cadastral Survey program exposed more potential employees to the world of BLM cadastral surveying.

Then in the fall of 2008, OIT's Boundary Survey class conducted another federal authority survey on BLM lands near Klamath Falls under the supervision of Karen Schank, the lead surveyor in the Medford District. This survey has its complexities involving data collection, calculation, and evaluation of the evidence to mark a boundary line that separates federal and private lands.

There's no question that the relationship between the BLM and OIT is a positive experience for both parties. The BLM plans to continue working with OIT in the future. By OIT students getting a valuable opportunity to do the actual field work, they gain the experience of conducting a real live survey. And these future surveyors join a long American tradition in becoming a part of the historical framework of the United States.

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