What Are Some Guidelines for Using the USGS Township Range System?


Quick Answer

The township, range and section system used by the United States Geographic Survey depicts state and section boundaries of each state. It bases the maps on survey data it began measuring in the 1800s, according to the Minnesota Geospatial Information Office. Officially, USGS refers to the map set and system as the Public Land Survey System, commonly abbreviated as PLSS.

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Full Answer

These maps divide a state into townships, ranges, sections, quarter sections and quarter-quarter sections. They also depict government parcels, such as wildlife preserves and federal parks.

The maps use four basic measurements as their base, according to Jacksonville State University. The baseline is a geographic designated parallel line. The township depicts the south or north distance from the baseline and usually measures six miles. The principal meridian is a geographic designated meridian line (horizontal). The range depicts the distance west or east from the meridian and usually measures six miles.

Determine if the map maker extended survey lines across water bodies. Doing so allows sections and towns to appear as closed areas (polygons) in GIS map layers. It also means regardless of lake levels, the data set remains unaffected.

The PLSS forms the basis of legal land descriptions in the country, but doesn't function as a legal record.

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