A Foundation for the Future, Revisited
Even before the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rolled out the Certified Federal Surveyor (CFedS) program last year, Ron Scherler, the program’s project manager, expected it to grow substantially. As POB reported last year (see “A Foundation for the Future,” June 2006), the voluntary program was established to train and certify licensed land surveyors to perform boundary surveying and related services on Indian trust lands, thus preserving the rectangular land system. A year later, a pilot group of 69 have passed the distance learning course and its final examination for certification (of 79 who completed the program), and 167 surveyors have already signed up within the first two weeks of open registration for the next course. Scherler hopes that the BLM’s goal for 2,000 to 3,000 participants in the program within two to three years will be met. This will help the program to become self-sufficient, as was originally planned (initial funding was provided by the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians). “We need about 300 new surveyors in the program each of the next two years, and it looks like we will exceed that number,” Scherler says.
The success of the program, in part, is due to the motivation and dedication of its students. To learn why they registered and what they have gained from the program, POB spoke with a few of the first CFedS graduates about their experiences and goals.
Driving ForcesAs the manager of both the GIS, and Survey and Mapping departments for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Danny Swain, a licensed surveyor in Florida, believed CFedS training would serve him well. “The CFedS program has solidified my position within the tribe by demonstrating my willingness to ensure that the Seminoles remain in control of surveying their own lands,” Swain says. “Furthermore, I believe that completion of this program has broadened my opportunities for employment by providing a benchmark for the education and training I have received that other tribal entities and governmental agencies would similarly appreciate.”
Seven-state licensee Steve Parrish signed onto the program for additional business opportunities and personal interest. “We are a company made up of primarily land surveyors and photogrammetrists with offices in opposite ends of Nevada,” Parrish explains. “Our three geographic locations provide us with opportunities to readily access projects in the four adjoining states where I am licensed.” Parrish predicts that his licenses in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada and Utah will be utilized more with his CFedS certification. As far as his personal interest, he says he has a firm belief that land surveying is a lifelong learning environment. “I knew the course would be a good refresher and offer a lot of additional information that will add to my performance as a land surveyor.”
Louise Hooyer, right of way engineering supervisor for the state of Alaska DOT, says she was “interested in learning more about federal and Indian land law as it pertained to land surveying. We currently have projects that involve native allotment lands and I thought this education would be helpful with our acquisitions.” The education may also help Hooyer in her personal endeavors. “Eventually, I hope to expand my horizons by returning to private practice,” she says. “This certification just gives me one more accreditation that should make it that much easier to find employment.”
Registered Arizona surveyor Richard A. Klebieko became interested in the CFedS program through an advanced cadastral rectangular section seminar presented in May 2005. As a tribal surveyor for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Scottsdale, he says he wanted to become certified in order to perform land surveys in accordance to BLM guidelines. “The CFedS program will expand my opportunities since this tribe has interest in purchasing fee patent land contiguous to its borders,” he says. “The bottom line is, fee patent land will be brought into trust and that is where the CFedS come in.”
Originally planning to become certified as a mineral surveyor, Arizona surveyor Jeffrey Nutting changed his plans when he heard about the CFedS program. As an employee of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community for eight years now, he knew the program would provide him with both refresher knowledge of Indian lands as well as new material to grow on. “I am always hungry for more knowledge and a better ability to help people,” he says.
Value in the DetailsThe rigorous and comprehensive courses of the program required students to put forth 100 to 200 hours of focused attention, depending on their pace. The lessons learned were many--all valuable. Swain says the cultural training was “particularly fascinating since these views differed vastly from the internal perspective I have gained from working within the Seminole Tribe of Florida. I believe this only proves that each Indian tribe must be approached as an individual entity with specific characteristics, cultures and norms gained from their own personal and tribal experiences. Rather than attempting to place Indian tribes into a one-size-fits-all box, we must respect and value the individual differences that each tribe presents in any given experience.”
Nutting concurs. “It was good that they had lessons on the way the natives think,” he says. “A reservation is a different place. You see different conditions and different lifestyles. When you go out there you have to understand that it is different, and some of the history behind it, so you can deal appropriately with the people. They are people just like anybody. Before you go out there, do a little research [because] not every tribe is the same.”
Parrish learned that “a lot of additional study and coordination with the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and BLM will be required to provide a good service for the BIA.” He also benefitted from the course on water boundaries. “Most of us do not have opportunities to deal with water boundary surveys on a regular basis,” he says. “This is definitely an area that will nearly always require a cooperative effort with the few water boundary experts we have spread within the government and private sector of our land surveying and legal boundary expert communities.”
Klebieko found the lessons on the three-mile rectangular system valuable. “If a surveyor does not research the record on how the reservation was broken down, he may incorrectly perform that procedure,” he says.
Hooyer was surprised to learn about the specific historical references and information about the Indian treaties. “Alaskans tend to forget that the rest of the country has a much longer and varied history,” she says.
More valuable and interesting lessons will be learned as the surveyors complete the required 10 to 15 hours of continuing education work annually. According to Scherler, three new courses will be offered per year for this phase of the program. Included in the list of courses will be: Introduction to the Geographic Coordinate Data Base, Hiatus/Overlaps and Junior/Senior Rights, and Corner Monumentation. Scherler says that future courses currently planned include a series on Alaskan surveys, a series on the Public Land Survey Casebook, a course on the next edition of the Manual of Instructions, a series on advanced water boundary issues; and various advanced courses on restoration of lost corners, subdivision of section, etc.
A Worthwhile EndeavorAfter completing the initial training of the CFedS program, these beta testers were satisfied and impressed with its structure, purpose and implementation. “My overall impression,” Swain says, “is that the CFedS program can and will serve to fill a void in the surveying community with respect to resurveying public lands in general. In addition, it is my hope that it will become the benchmark that all surveyors are judged by in the years to come. I am very satisfied with my decision to join and complete the CFedS program. It has provided me with a more complete and thorough understanding of how to deal with the Public Lands Survey System and the Indian lands contained therein.”
Parrish says he was “impressed with the amount of effort and volume of material that was assembled and offered in such a short time. For someone with 40-plus years of PLSS experience, I found the course challenging and fulfilling. This experience gives me the opportunity to encourage other members of our profession to take the plunge and prepare to offer solid survey support for Indian land boundary determinations.”
He adds: “I view the CFedS [program] to have been much like the numerous times I have scaled a rough and rugged mountain, through dense brush and roaring waters. The trip was physically exhausting, required a good measure of mental alertness, presented several unexpected hazards along the trail … but was ultimately exhilarating when the top of the peak was reached.”
Nutting says he didn’t hesitate to tell his former colleagues in the Midwest about CFedS. “I’m highly recommending it,” he says. “It’s a tough road but the benefit that comes from it is very worthwhile. My overall impression of the program is that the intent and the content is very good. I have already used some of the concepts [from the program].”
He continues: “Having had this training, it will expand my ability to respond to the opportunities that come. I can do more complete, more correct [work] and can handle things that tribes might have farmed out.”
Hooyer, the first female registered land surveyor in Anchorage and the second in Alaska, now also proudly carries the label as being part of the first group of CFedS. She says that completing this program has given her “a more rounded understanding of the process for surveying native lands.” She says, “I was impressed. A lot of time and hard work was put into making this program a success. Once it was all done, I was glad that I persevered. For the most part, the presentations were very professional, informative and you felt connected to the instructor. With E-mails, a few phone calls and the monthly call-in discussions, you didn’t feel so alone. There was a discussion website started by one of the students for [other] students to make comments and find support. I felt that [the program] helped me strengthen some of my weaknesses in federal land surveying. I have a much better core of understanding for the federal land systems now. I am excited to be part of something new that will have a big impact on the future of land surveying.”
Klebieko says the CFedS program is “the best training I have ever received in the surveying arena. The program has broadened and reinforced my knowledge of the PLSS and introduced me to the procedures, requirements and methods that the BLM wants to conduct surveys.
“I am completely satisfied and honored to become a CFedS and proud of it. The program has broadened and reinforced my knowledge, and has opened my eyes in other areas of procedures, administrative rules, requirements, etc. of the BLM. The certification puts another feather in my hat and looks nice on my résumé. My family and my peers are especially proud of me, and I wanted Arizona to take notice. Once I found out that I passed the exam, I immediately drove to the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division and ordered a custom license plate for my truck. Can you guess what it is? CFEDS.”
Future Program Plans
Last year, Scherler said he wanted to make the CFedS program a success. After its pilot group of certified federal surveyors graduated on May 4th, he can now say he and his collegues have established a solid foundation to do so.