Great Basin Naturalist


Rectangular surveys completed between 1796 and 1925 by the General Land Office have frequently been used in the eastern and central U.S. to determine land cover prior to European settlement. These survey notes are less often used in the western U.S., although they are the only site-specific presettlement records available in many areas. Recent efforts to restore riparian and grassland habitats require an understanding of the conditions of these sites before settlement. General Land Office Survey notes provide a description of each township, including water supplies, timber resources, and agricultural potential. The width and course of rivers and streams were recorded on survey lines, along with notes on topography, vegetation, wetlands, mineral deposits, and soils. The township and section descriptions may be used with other historic information to reconstruct presettlement landscapes. Incomplete or vague descriptions, land use before survey, bias in recording data, and contract fraud limit the usefulness of some survey notes. However, survey notes have proved useful in establishing baseline conditions of riparian habitats in Colorado and Oregon and grasslands in Colorado and New Mexico.