Land Records, Surveying & GIS

As part of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), the National Integrated Land System (NILS) consists of a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States Forest Service (USFS), and various state and local agencies. With land as a common concern, NILS is important to both federal agencies. A field-to-fabric solution is being sought, with the "fabric" being the parcels.
Unlike other federal agencies, the BLM often owns "what's left." That is, they own everything that has not been deeded out. Surface and sub-surface ownership and rights vary widely, and the BLM controls more than ten million property corners. 35-50 percent of the parcels do not have a PLSS description. Because stovepipe activities such as oil and gas, and timber have not always communicated with each other in the past, there has been much needless duplication in the acquisition of data.
At the recent ESRI User Conference in San Diego, BLM representatives discussed the history of past automation efforts. They admitted that the BLM is lagging behind in conforming to the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) standards, partially due to the fact that it didn't anticipate the impact of the Internet. But because 74 percent of BLM business processes involve the use of geospatial data, it has responded with NILS.
Under the Land Records 2000 initiative, NILS contains four modules: 1) GeoCommunicator, a no-fee website for data sharing and collaborative efforts among land managers. It uses ESRI's ArcIMS and ArcSDE running on Informix software; 2) Survey Management for field observations. It will support capture of measurement features and metadata directly into a GIS; 3) Measurement Management for measurement objects. It will enable users to create high- quality control networks for PLSS and metes and bounds environments, and will allow the upgrading of existing network/feature sets by inserting higher-quality measurement data; and 4) Parcel Management to provide a process for managing land records and cadastral feature data stored in a database. Data is being converted to Arc coverages, and the modules are based on ArcSurvey and Arc 9.x.

State Regulation of GIS
Many feel that "as goes California, so goes the rest of the nation," therefore, the status of California regulations pertaining to surveying and GIS was the subject of another interesting meeting at the User Conference. Presenters Bruce Joffe, a California GIS consultant, and Lee Hennes, LS, City of San Diego Surveyor, are members of a task force that has been examining the issue for more than a year. Their session foreshadowed some of the difficulties that lie ahead as agencies struggle with this question.
The California Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (BORPELS) has adopted some of the most stringent rules in the nation regarding this subject. Currently, BORPELS will respond to complaints regarding: the use of GIS to create source documents which determine boundaries and fixed works; the use of GIS data and processing to determine location, distance, area, or land use rights related to boundaries affecting property value; and most important, the use of GPS to capture and map the location of fixed works on GIS maps. (Italics added by the session presenters.)
Under the heading "Turf Battle, or Concern for Public Health, Safety and Welfare?" the session presenters revealed that surveyors don't want GIS maps to be misused to determine location, and that this isn't an issue of accuracy, but rather about legal authority to protect the public. Surveyors largely believe that their supervision is appropriate in the absence of any other professional authority.
On a lighter note, two humorous disclaimers provided session attendees with a good chuckle: Caution, objects on this map may be closer (or further) than they appear; and The relationship of objects shown on this map to the truth is purely coincidental. Of course, the devil is in the details, and the task force has bogged down in "exclusions," that is, what non-surveyors will be allowed to do. These are contentious issues. While surveyors may fail if they attempt to protect turf, the public still needs protection. Will each state eventually find it necessary to establish the type of task force that exists in California? It will take concerted efforts to deal with these challenges.

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