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What is a Cadastral Survey?

The term cadastral survey refers to the official boundary surveys performed under the authority of Title 43 of the United States Code (U.S.C.). Cadastral surveys in general create, mark, and define, retrace, resurvey and reestablish the boundaries and subdivisions of the public lands of the United States. By Title 43 U.S.C., the BLM is required to perform cadastral surveys on all Federal interest and Indian lands.

There are three basic elements to any cadastral survey:

I. The Authorizing Documentation

A. Survey Request
A survey request is the basis for determination of the validity or the necessity of a survey and whether or not the survey is authorized by Law. The request is submitted in writing and becomes a matter of record as it initiates a chain of official action. (BLM Form 9600-4)

B. Special instructions

The written statement containing the detailed specifications for every cadastral survey assignment. The Special Instructions include the basic information necessary for accomplishing the field work and are an important part of the record relating to the survey. Special Instructions are prepared by the person in administrative charge of the work and together with the Manual and supportive data, contain the necessary specifications and information for the execution of the survey. 

C. Assignment Instructions
The written instructions to the cadastral surveyor authorizing him or her to execute a specific part, or all, of a particular survey. Although a survey may be authorized, by the Special Instructions, a surveyor may not perform any part of that survey without the instructions containing the specific assignment.

II. Field Survey

The field survey consists of the collection of measurements, bearing and distance, made to any evidence of all prior surveys. After thoroughly evaluating all evidence of remaining original corners, monuments are set at those positions to perpetuate the corner. Further information on this subject may be found at Cadastral Tools and References page.

The actual field survey and the preparation of the official records for the field work may require as little as a week or in extreme cases a year or more to complete, this is entirely dependent on the size of the project and annual appropriations.

III. Survey Returns

The official record of a cadastral survey ordinarily consists of a graphical representation of the field survey, "the plat" and a written narrative 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. The field notes describe in a narrative the bearings and distances of the lines and a description of the evidence found and the monumentation established at each corner position. The plats and field notes submitted for a field survey are not official until approved by the delegated authority. These documents are then filed and notice is published in the Federal Register.