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500.11 - Obtaining Permission for Access to Private Lands

This chapter establishes policies and procedures to be followed by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees when requesting permission from private landowners to enter onto their property to perform USGS work.

Date: 08/22/2008

OPR: Office of Administrative Policy and Services/Office of Management Services

InstructionThis chapter replaces Chapter 500.11, dated 7/30/1990.


1. Purpose.  This chapter establishes policies and procedures to be followed by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) employees when requesting permission from private landowners to enter onto their property to perform USGS work.

2. Scope.  These policies and procedures apply to all activities and operations of the USGS as well as its employees, volunteers, and contractors.

3. Policy.

A.  No surveys funded by appropriated Biological Research Activity funds will be conducted on private lands unless specifically authorized in writing by the property owner.  Because this restriction is included in the USGS annual appropriation language, this policy must be followed without exception.

B.  Unless a USGS official or employee charged with supervising a USGS volunteer obtains appropriate consent to enter private property from the property owner, USGS cannot utilize volunteer services or volunteers for USGS activities conducted on private lands.  Because this restriction is included in the Department of the Interior (DOI) Volunteer Recruitment Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-125), which applies to several Bureaus including USGS, the policy must be followed without exception.

C. USGS officials will obtain permission from the property owner or an authorized representative of the property owner before a USGS employee, volunteer, or contractor enters onto private property, restricted public property, and/or leased Federal land.  This policy is established in accordance with the DOI Office of the Solicitor’s advice, which states that entry onto private property without permission amounts to a trespassory invasion of property.

D. The USGS preferred business practice is that permission be obtained in writing, particularly when the work will necessitate regular recurring visits to the property.  Written permission is required whenever USGS intends to disturb the property in some significant or long-term way (e.g., dig trenches, erect a structure, etc.). A format for obtaining written permission is provided in Figure 500.11.1.

E. The establishment and maintenance of a gaging station, test hole, and/or observation well on private property necessitates a written agreement between the landowner and the USGS as established in Form 9-1482, Agreement for Installation and Maintenance of Gaging Station, and in Form 9-1483, Well Drilling/Sampling Agreement.

F. Long-standing oral agreements and oral agreements made in situations where obtaining written permission would be prohibitive can be documented by using the form listed in Figure 500.11.2 or by obtaining the information included in Figure 500.11.2 and documenting the oral permission as soon as possible.  

G. Following a determination by the President that Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local capabilities during an emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Public Law 93-288 as amended by Public Law 100-707), and upon written or oral request (later confirmed in writing) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (as required by Executive Order 12148), the USGS may provide Federal disaster assistance including performing on public or private lands or waters any work or services essential to saving lives and protecting and preserving property or public health and safety.

H. In all situations, if resistance is encountered, the field party should choose another location for the operation rather than provoke antagonism.

I. Upon entering private property, USGS personnel must recognize the disturbing effects ground vehicles, aircraft, or watercraft (e.g., powerboats) may have on the domesticated animals, livestock, wildlife, fish, etc., and the damage to property these craft may cause. USGS employees, contractors, and volunteers are expected to operate vehicles and craft in a manner that minimizes disturbing effects and avoids damage to property.


J. Written permission, documentation of oral permission, and Forms 9-1482 and 9-1483, and documentation that the site was returned to its natural state will be kept on file by the initiating office in the project file until the project is completed and in accordance with the Handbook for Managing USGS Records, 432-1-H.

4. Responsibility.  The leader of each field party, in conjunction with their field office chief, supervisor, and/or project leader, as applicable, is responsible for ensuring that the policies and procedures set forth in this chapter are adhered to.

5. General Procedures.  In accordance with the above established policies, the following procedures will be followed when USGS field work necessitates access to private property, restricted public property, and/or leased Federal land:


A.  The field party shall obtain oral or written permission from the landowner before entering the property, except in extenuating circumstances such as taking high-water marks, etc. See Figures 500.11.1 and 500.11.2.  The field party shall assure the landowner that every effort will be made to minimize disturbance or disruption to the property.

B.  When practical, the field party shall notify the resident of the property (either the landowner or a tenant, as applicable) when they enter on the property to begin the work.  A visit to the residence by a member of the party, if possible, is preferred.  If recurring visits are planned and authorized by the landowner, the field party should exercise prudence in determining whether notification of the resident for each subsequent visit is warranted (e.g., proximity to residence, impact on livestock or fowl, etc.).


C.  If any structure, measuring device, or marker is to be installed on the property or if the property is to be otherwise altered (such as by trenching), specific written permission must be obtained, and the landowner must be given the following information (except for situations requiring Forms 9-1482 and 9-1483):


(1)  Purpose and public usefulness of the installation.


(2)  Location (owner's help should be enlisted in locating installation).


(3)  Time and date of work.


(4)  Duration (temporary or permanent).


(5)  Assurance of restoration of land to original condition upon removal of installation.


D.  Transportation to the work site shall follow a route that avoids disturbance to livestock or fowl.  Special care must be exercised when access is made by helicopter.


E.  Community Activities.  As appropriate, the field party shall keep the local community informed of the nature of the work being done and take all reasonable steps to assure local support and understanding of the project by use of the following, or similar, means:

(1)  Distribute appropriate press releases to local newspapers, radio stations, and television channels.  The statement should cite the nature and purpose of the work, its benefits to the local community, the cooperative efforts of local officials (including the landowner), the name of the chief of party, and the names of local persons hired by the party.


(2)  Distribute statements similar to the press release to local government officials, the Member of Congress from that district, and officers of local service clubs.

(3)  Make personal contact with representatives of the local community by visiting officials and presenting talks at meetings of local service clubs.

(4)  Upon request, landowners, and others who assist in expediting our field work shall be entitled to copies of maps or other publications subsequently issued to the public, which will apprise them of the results of the field work.  Upon request, provide information concerning the property to the landowner prior to any publication.


Figure 500.11.1

Figure 500.11.2


__/s/ Karen D. Baker_______________                                          8/22/2008

Karen D. Baker                                                                               

Associate Director for Administrative Policy and Services