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Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

The 2009 BLM Manual of Surveying Instructions – Why and How Print E-mail
Written by Landon Blake, LS   
Friday, 03 June 2011

The availability of the new 2009 BLM Manual of Surveying Instructions was announced on September 24, 2009. This announcement was the culmination of a great effort to revise the previous 19732 edition of the manual. It was an important event for all land surveyors who practice in the United States, especially for those that work in states where the public land survey system (PLSS) was used to divide and distribute land.

Although the 2009 edition of the manual was released almost 2 years ago, I was only recently able to sit down to acquaint myself with some of the changes. I was very surprised at the amount of work that had gone into the new edition and the abundance of information available about it. In preparation for this article I jotted down notes as I reviewed just a portion of this information. I hope to finish this review in the coming months. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of what I have learned with my readers. I must point out that I wasn't personally involved with the creation of a new edition of the manual in any way. Although I have made an effort to convey accurate information in this article, please remember that I don't speak from first-hand knowledge. Everything I will share I learned from information that is readily available to all of my fellow land surveyors and the public. Hopefully the little tidbits I'm able to provide in this article will inspire you to do your own research if you have been procrastinating as I have.

Before I share what I learned about the new edition of the manual, let me give you the web site URLs where you can start your own research on the subject:


The first URL I listed is the official BLM page with information on the new edition of the manual. The second URL I listed is the web page for the organization that was put together to produce and maintain the new edition of the manual.

In this article I will first discuss why a new edition of the manual was needed. I will then review how the new edition of the manual was created.

Why Was A New Edition of the BLM Manual of Surveying Instructions Needed?

Why was a new edition of the manual needed? Although I wasn't able to find a clear and direct answer to this question in the material I reviewed, I was able to put together a list of 4 reasons a new edition was needed. This list was compiled from the information in a collection of articles and papers on the new manual. The list has four (4) important reasons why a new edition of the manual was needed:

1) A new edition was needed to remove obsolete content in the previous edition of the manual. For example, the new edition of the manual removed the content on stadia measurement, subtense bar measurement, triangulation, notation of magnetic declination in the plat and field notes, instructions on celestial observations, and instructions on the adjustment of the solar unit.

2) A new edition of the manual was needed to make the surveying instructions more technology independent. A quote from the information I reviewed on the manual epitomizes the principle of making the manual more independent of specific measurement technology: “We can plot without pens, measure without steel tapes, acquire azimuth without solar instruments, collect coordinates without GPS, calculate without using tables, or document without paper.” Several changes to the manual aim to achieve this goal of greater technology independence.

3) A new edition of the manual was needed to include important new law and policy since the 1973 edition of the manual was released. This includes new statute law, case law, federal policy, federal policy clarification, case studies, and examples.

4) A new edition of the manual was needed to include important information missing from the 1973 edition of the manual. For example, content on the following topics were added to the 2009 edition of the manual: A brief history of the PLSS. Additional methods of calculating the longitudinal curve. The use of GPS to establish direction. Including statements on the use of GPS in field notes. The markings for control monuments.

How Was the New Edition of the BLM Manual of Surveying Instructions Created?
As mentioned in the introduction of this article, I was very impressed by the amount of work that went into creating the new edition of the manual. This was no small task accomplished by a single individual. It is apparent the BLM and the individuals involved in the update realized how important and serious this task was. A review of the process used to create the manual reveals just how careful and thorough they were in their work. I put together an outline of the ten (10) step process used by the BLM to create the new edition of the manual. This outline was assembled from information contained in a video series about the new edition of the manual that you can access from here:


Here is the outline I was able to sketch out from the video:

1) A committee was formed to supervise the creation of the new edition.

2) The existing edition of the manual was reviewed for missing, obsolete, and incorrect content.

3) Judicial decisions, IBLA decisions, BLM bulletins, and BLM memos issued since the release of the 1973 edition were assembled. (This material filled more than eight (8) three ring binders.)

4) The 1973 edition was converted to a digital editable text file.

5) The material collected in step 2 of the process was used to prepare a preliminary draft of the 2009 edition. (A draft edition of the manual prepared by the BLM in 1992/1993 was also used.)

6) Each chapter of the new edition was reviewed by a “sounding board” of two (2) to four (4) subject matter experts. The sounding board's provided comments and recommendations to the editor of the new edition. Not all subject matter experts were land surveyors. Experts from other professions, such as lawyers, were also included in the sounding boards when appropriate.

7) Two (2) separate internal reviews of the preliminary 2009 edition were conducted by 12 state BLM offices. Over 1700 comments from the cadastral surveyors and their staff at these offices were received as a result of these reviews.

8) Comments were requested and received from the IBLA staff attorney and the Office of the Solicitor General.

9) BLM Representatives spoke about the new edition and received comments from land surveyors at 14 state land surveying association conferences.

10) A final draft integrating review comments was prepared.

There were good reasons for preparing the 2009 edition of the BLM Manual of Surveying Instructions. This included the need to remove obsolete content, to make the manual more technology independent, to update the manual to reflect new law and policies, and the need to include important content missing from the 1973 edition of the manual. The updated edition of the manual is an admirable effort to address these needs.

The BLM put into place and followed a thorough process to prepare the new edition of the manual. They reviewed existing material, made an effort to be inclusive of comments from BLM staff, experts at other federal agencies, and of land surveyors in private practice. They allowed for a number of internal and external reviews of the draft version of the new edition of the manual. I want to personally commend the BLM for their effort. I look forward to talking more about the new edition of the manual in future articles for this column.

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