I recently had a request for TRS/PLSS data and I didn't know anything about it. I have researched it and it looks like it is purely mathematical (for the most part) based on geo-coordinates but I'm wondering if anyone would actually benefit from this information.

For example, in our address verification service, we could provide the TRS data as well as the lat/lon data for each address.

Im wondering what industries actually use the TRS/PLSS data scheme.


6 Answers 6


The primary industry that uses this is the real estate industry, and planning and government. The TRS system is the basis for the legal descriptions that describe the locations of land parcels in most of the United States.

Legal Description - Wikipedia

There are a number of ways that the bounds of a land parcel may be described, but at some point, whether at the parcel level, or subdivision level, it is tied back into the TRS system. The caveat to this is that it mostly applies to land west of the Mississippi aside from Texas, the states bordering the Great Lakes, and the southern states aside from Georgia.

There are likely other uses, but I think this is the primary, and most critical in the context of property ownership rights in the US.


There are a number of industries that use PLSS data. Russell mentions the Real Estate market, but also the Energy/Resources and Utilities industries as well. In my current applications we provide interfaces for companies to report to us the location of assets/resources based on their Township/Range/Section/Quarter/QuarterQuarter as many areas do not have a hard address that you can geocode a location too.


I've developed tools for petroleum landmen that allow them to create polygons of leases based on PLSS legal descriptions in a spreadsheet.

The first tool lives within Excel and is used to export legal descriptions of leases from the spreadsheet into an xml file. The workbook contains VBA which references a data transfer class. The class is written in .NET with a COM callable wrapper. The excel technician wrote the code that loops through rows in the spreadsheet, instantiating lease objects. One of the attributes of the lease object is well formed legal description. It might describe something like the N half of the SE quarter section of Section 21 Township whatever Range whatever. Oil leases can get nested pretty deep - down to 1/128th of a section as I recall. The collection of leases is then serialized to an xml file.

The second tool lives in Arcmap. The user first loads a PLSS polygon layer into the map (downloaded from BLM). He then clicks a command and is prompted for an xml file and an output folder. The command uses the same dll to deserialize the xml file into a collection of lease objects. It then uses the legal descriptions on those leases to find the appropriate Section polygon, then recursively divides and subdivides it as needed. These polygons are written to a shapefile along with attributes that were originally in the excel spreadsheet.

I know of no standardized grammar for these legal descriptions, so the excel custodian and I worked together to make one up. (If anyone knows of one please chime in!). Normally geocoding is thought of as a process to generate point locations. This use-case illustrates a situation where geocoding produces polygons. Interpolation plays a role in both forms of geocoding. With linear geocoding points are interpolated along a line. With PLSS based geocoding sub-sections, sub-sub-sections and so on are found by interpolating along the sides of polygons to create cutting lines. Finding the corners of a polygon can be tricky - a polygon often has more than 4 vertices. Using an origin at the centroid of the polygon I found the vertex in each quadrant that is farthest from the origin.

If a standardized grammar could be established some place like the BLM could publish a geoprocessing (GP) service that converts legal descriptions into polygons. This GP service could then be used by others to write web apps that, for example, allow users to copy and paste a legal description into a text box, push a button and have a polygon appear on a map.

  • 1
    Kirk; there is a real good tool that you can look at on the commercial side that hits at what your talking about, the product CarteView from PremierData has a incredible engine behind it to take the text of legal descriptions and turn them into geometries (disclaimer - I worked for them a number of years ago) but this is a tool the BLM themselves use to build data. So with the Feds using it for there business you can bet it does PLSS greatly.
    – D.E.Wright
    Mar 29, 2012 at 18:44
  • @D.E.Wright Thanks for the pointer to PremierData. Are the Feds publishing lease maps on the web anywhere? Mar 29, 2012 at 19:36
  • The NILS program/system was the location for that; but that project was killed because of cost-overruns and project mis-management from what I understand. At Premier where you can subscribe to there data they have and build layers for that on a monthly basis; I don't know what there cost model is but I know they do these updates for most of the western US. You can look at the PDS Studio application for that.
    – D.E.Wright
    Mar 29, 2012 at 20:01
  • geocommunicator.gov links are all dead as of 2018 Nov 26, 2018 at 16:12

This service provides PLSS data for Google Earth. I used it for reference while we were digitizing Master Title Plats for the Colorado BLM.


  • And it still works.
    – jvangeld
    Aug 7, 2017 at 22:42

You can locate a legal description on Google Maps (not Google Earth) for free at http://www.mapandsell.com/.

This site takes parameters such as state, township, range, section, etc to produce a polygon of the description.


I'm in the process of adding this data on Geocoder.ca

(currently added LSD for Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) - for eg: http://geocoder.ca/?locate=W5M-07-53-30-NE&geoit=GeoCode

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