What is the Public Land Survey System?
The Public Land Survey System (PLSS) is a method of plotting out land lines. This method is similar to latitude and longitude that we more often use today. Rather than defining single points by a horizontal line encircling the planet (longitude) and vertical line connecting the poles (latitude), PLSS defines land by a grid of squares.
Before the PLSS, the United States relied on the British surveying system of metes and bounds, which relied heavily on land markers such as trees (which die), streams (which move) and rocks (these can move too, at times). Each survey was, therefore, unique to the particular location. Unusual land patters required incredibly complex descriptions. Overall, it did not scale well.
The PLSS speaks to American history as it was developed to deal with the larger challenge the United States encountered as their borders extended into vast, uncharted wildernesses. With the 1783 Treaty of Paris, England not only recognized US independence, but also their right to land south of the Great Lakes and west to the Mississippi River. Metes and bounds required surveyors on the ground to portion out every piece of land. To more efficiently plot out this land, the PLSS was employed, starting with Ohio.
Most of the original 13 colonies were never plotted out by the PLSS. For the most part, however, central and western states were. While this can be a point of confusion, this makes little difference to The Coal Fields™ as the BLM managed lands we handle are in states that have been mapped with the PLSS.
Learn more about how to make sense of the PLSS on our blog post: Understanding Location Data