Land surveying

Collage of images showing land surveyors measuring distances, an official survey marker, and survey marks carved into a rock

Responsibly managing Minnesota’s 5.6 million acres of public lands includes knowing the precise boundaries between state land and private property. DNR land surveyors combine skills in real estate law, history and geography to assist land managers in protecting and conserving the state’s natural resources.

What is land surveying?

DNR land surveyors in the Lands and Minerals Division determine the location of property boundaries by researching historical survey and property records and analyzing legal descriptions. DNR land surveyors use paper documentation of land to locate physical land boundaries using a combination of high-tech equipment and good old-fashioned mathematics.

Land surveyors are often seen out in the field in orange vests and a good pair of boots, but there are plenty of days spent at their desks analyzing records, computing boundaries and drawing up official maps. When office work is done, land surveyors take on their next assignment in the wild. DNR land surveyors spend time in the woods, prairies or parks looking for boundary markers set by government land surveyors, sometimes as far back as the 1800s. In other instances, land surveyors are busy mapping out spaces for new recreational areas.

Recording land boundaries helps the state utilize natural resources for the best purposes. Land surveys determine where people can go hunting, hiking or fishing or the location of trust lands for economic purposes. Information from land surveys also helps make sure protected natural areas stay that way.

How does the DNR use land surveyors?

DNR land surveyors partner with the department’s land managing divisions to determine the boundaries of state land, along with posting the boundaries. At the DNR, land surveying and boundary staking and platting is a critical step in completing land transactions like acquisitions, conservation easements, sales, and exchanges. The work of the DNR’s survey team has been requested by other state agencies like the Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Boundary surveys

Survey crews attempt to recover property corner monuments, measuring them with survey precision. A licensed surveyor examines the land records, comparing them to the field measurements, and makes a boundary determination. Finally, the survey crew sets the property corner monuments and defines the land boundary.

Topographic surveys

The Survey Section does topographic surveys for water access sites, trails, bridges and other development projects. Land surveyors take measurements of buildings, utilities, wells, and topography to assist engineers and architects in designing or upgrading facilities such as a campground or a bridge.

Acquisition and easement surveys

Surveyors assist land acquisitions and projects that aim to maintain natural spaces. DNR land surveyors review public land purchases to make sure that the property can be located, there are no conflicts with neighboring properties, and to determine the acreage using the most current survey information available.

What tools do land surveyors use?

The tools land surveyors use to measure plots of land have advanced with modern technology. At the DNR, land surveyors use a combination of GPS and instruments like a Robotic Total Station which uses lasers to measure angles and distances to compute a position to determine public land boundaries. Even with new technology, modern-day land surveyors still rely on the information, and occasionally the methods, provided by land surveyors of the past. Scroll through the pictures to get a glimpse of some of the tools land surveyors have used to shape our world throughout history.


Get in touch

Robert Langner, Survey Unit Manager
[email protected]

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