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Public Land Survey System of the United States

United States Geological Survey (USGS)
  • Added 13 Apr 2009

This data set portrays the Public Land Surveys of the United States,
including areas of private survey, Donation Land Claims, and Land Grants and Civil Colonies. This is a revised version of the May, 2002 data set.

These data are intended for geographic display and analysis at the national level, and for large regional areas. The data should be displayed and analyzed at scales appropriate for 1:2,000,000-scale
data. No responsibility is assumed by the U.S. Geological Survey in the use of these data.

All lands in the public domain are subject to subdivision by a rectangular system of surveys called the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), established and regulated by the Bureau of Land Management. The original public domain includes the land ceded to the Federal Government by the Thirteen Original States, supplemented with acquisitions from native Indians and foreign powers. It encompasses major portions of the land area of 30 western States.

Under Congressional mandate, cadastral surveys of public lands were undertaken to create parcels suitable for disposal by the Government. The PLSS was developed for this purpose. The PLSS is a rectangular survey system that typically divides the land into 6-mile square townships, which are further subdivided into 1-mile square sections (the data in the National Atlas do not include section-level information). The extension of the rectangular system of surveys over the public domain has been in progress since 1785. These surveys form the basis of patents issued when public lands pass out of Federal ownership.

Certain lands were excluded from the public domain and not subject to survey and disposal. These lands include the beds of navigable bodies of water, national installations such as military reservations and national parks, and areas such as land grants that had already passed to private ownership prior to subdivision by the Government.

Data describing the PLSS is required by Federal surface and mineral management agencies, as well as any organization concerned with and ownership in the 30 western States that were formed from the public domain. Additionally, many agencies have encoded natural resource or environmental inventory data based on the PLSS.


Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

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CategoryCadastral & Property
RegionsUnited States of America

Technical Details

Layer ID 715
Data type Vector polygon
Feature count 90919
Services Vector Query API


Added13 Apr 2009
Revisions 1 - Browse all revisions
Current revision Imported on April 13, 2009 from Shapefile in NAD83.
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