Do US Topos and The National Map have a layer that shows the Public Land Survey System (PLSS)?

The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is a way of subdividing and describing land in the United States. PLSS surveys, which are available for portions of land in 30 southern and western states, are made by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The PLSS typically divides land into 6-mile-square townships. Townships are subdivided into 36 one-mile-square sections. Sections can be further subdivided into quarter sections, quarter-quarter sections, or irregular government lots. PLSS was created to divide parcels of public land; it is not useful for the accurate location of points and should not be confused with coordinate systems like latitude/longitude, UTM, or the State Plane Coordinate System.

For states that have Public Land Surveys:

  • Almost all historical topographic maps (1884-2006) include PLSS tic marks or gridlines. 

  • US Topo maps published 2009-2012 do not include any PLSS data. 

  • US Topo maps published 2013-present have a Public Land Survey System layer that can be turned on and off.

  • The National Map Viewer displays "BLM Public Land Survey System (PLSS)". Use the "Add Data" tool at the top of the map.

  • For GIS users, PLSS data layers are available through the BLM’s REST service endpoint. An online table shows PLSS Cadastral National Spatial Data Infrastructure (CadNSDI) data set availability.

Learn more:

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Where can I find a list of URLs for The National Map services?

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Are the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) section lines on US Topo maps a legal record?

No, US Topo maps are not legal documents and the Public Land Survey System (PLSS) representation is not legally authoritative. The sections, townships, and ranges of the PLSS that are shown on US Topo maps are derived from GIS data from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in cooperation with the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC). Learn more...

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The Revolution in Mapping at the U.S. Geological Survey

by Susan P. Benjamin, Research Geographer

  • Mapping the United States in the 19th century was arduous, dangerous work; flash floods, bears, and bandits were just a few hazards
  • By the mid-20th century, aerial photography, photogrammetry, and stereophoto pairs, allowed