A 68Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Einstein on Surveying
I find "The American Surveyor" a must have publication. However, I am troubled that so much emphasis is placed on the technology and so little is placed on Boundary surveys.

I believe the licensing of surveyors is for the express purpose of protecting the public against surveyors who survey boundaries!

For this reason, I was delighted to read Chad Erickson’s article!

Have we forgotten that our legal system is based on British Common Law (with the exception of Louisiana). Under our legal system, 1) Boundaries can only be established once!

In the case where a surveyor is trying to establish the location of a 300 year old boundary (Yes, we have them here in New England), he must search both in the records and in the field for original monuments. Here in New England, the "Rules of Evidence" create a particularly heavy burden on surveyors… that burden is not an excuse for taking shortcuts.

1a) A surveyor must recognize that there are two parts to Title: I) Ownership of Title and II) Location of Title. Ownership of Title is strictly a legal matter. Location of Title, can be done when a licensed surveyor can find the original monuments and can put a more accurate definition on them without fear of being overturned by a court. However, when a licensed surveyor cannot find the original monuments of a parcel and sets new monuments they must recognize their opinion can be contested by the owner and/or abuttors and can be ruled wrong by a court who reviews their judgment in the light of the law. It is our (professional surveyors) good fortune that most people accept our work. We should not let it make us arrogant. Many persons do not contest our monuments because they are not certain of their validity and cannot afford to "fight it in court". Our good looking and complicated looking plans convince them we are right. (Ethics should dictate we don’t take advantage of that). 2) Adverse Possession is a legal principle, not a law: Surveyors cannot locate a boundary based on adverse possession. In most states the only law related to the adverse possession principle is the States Statute of Limitations law(s). In the case of an adverse possession claim in a "Petition to Quiet Title", the surveyor can have an opinion where the Adverse possession took place, and draw a plan of the same. He must, however, be prepared to show the court the basis for the open, notorious, hostile, etc claims and, he darned well better be prepared to show the court where he believes the original line is.

I have enormous sympathy for surveyors who must deal with GLO/ BLM/Public Land administrative law. It is contradictory and confusing, and subject to felonious intent.
David C. Garcelon, PLS
Harpswell, ME 04079

The editor responds: I’m a little surprised by your comment about emphasis on technology. Over the past year, we have been responding to reader requests for more boundary content in the magazine. My point in covering technology for the past 17 years is that I sincerely believe that–in a world where non-surveyors are increasingly able to do things that always required a surveyor–it helps people make money and compete, so we’ll continue to cover that as well.

Chad Erickson responds: I’ve gotten several letters from New England lately, which have added to my education. We all should get an hour of CPD units just for reading your letter. One of my favorite books is "More Than Land", written by Heman Chase in 1975. It is an autobiography of his years as a Professional Surveyor in New Hampshire and Vermont. It was from here that I realized the relative ease that eastern surveyors have in recognizing and accepting evidence. In Public Land Survey states we must always contemplate the struggle that we will have with BLM standards if we use evidence rather than proportioning. Consequently, there has been an awful lot of inappropriate proportioning against far distant monuments based on unreliable records. The body of Retracement Surveys in western states is so bad that sometimes I think we would have been better off if the US had retained metes and bounds surveys rather than innovating the rectangular system. In fact, I predict, that the surveyors of the west will of necessity be emulating the eastern surveyors more and more, if we can just get away from BLM and their Cadastral Engineers.

Tree Law
I read with interest your article on trees. Although much of the information in your article was accurate, you made an egregious error in that you stated that RCA is a certification provided by the International Society of Arboriculture. In fact the Registered Consulting Arborist program was established and is conducted by the American Society of Consulting Arborists (www., a very different organization consisting of membership that is dedicated to the types of assignments described in your article. The rigorous requirements that are met by the American Society of Consulting Arborist Registered Membership are quite different than those required by ISA Certified Arborists. We require greater standards of practice, particularly on tree related issues of "due care" than other arborist organizations.

Once again the line has been blurred beyond all recognition in a big way. This was a very clear opportunity to tell surveyors how we ASCA RCA’s can help you to resolve tree related conflict issues. To say that the average certified ISA member would be able to opine just as well as an RCA is a fundamental injustice. It is my sincere hope that you will correct this mistake in an appropriately open and weighted fashion.
Marty Shaw, RCA #470
Green Season Consulting
Franklin, TN

Crattie responds: Well, nothing ruins one’s day more than committing egregious errors. When I give any sort of presentation, I make it clear to the folks that I may be wrong in many circumstances. Just let me know. And Marty, I appreciate you pointing out my error. My full intent was to give you guys a huge shout out and in the context of the article, I think you’d agree I did. I relied on a source that was incorrect and if I did harm to your profession, I apologize. I truly wish I could get the organization: American Society of Consulting Arborists mentioned in American Surveyor magazine. I also wish I could put on notice to the entire world that if there is a tree problem, please contact an RCA certified through ASCAN and disregard the ISA for a fully competent opinion. I do hope that any surveyors or their client’s with a tree problem contact the American Society of Consulting Arborists for professional guidance.

The Business of Ethics
Aren’t there two forms of ethics…. our own and those imposed on us by regulatory agencies. I think that distinction is important!! I wonder how often a professional has said: "That is all the professional code of ethics calls for..that is all they are going to get" even though they know most professionals hold themselves to a higher standard than the code requires?

I am also wondering why ethics should be a business? Shouldn’t we name it business ethics?

I would think that an ethical surveyor would be sure to make note on his plan what the current BFE is, what the proposed BFE is, and when the proposed BFE will take place.

One last thing…what do you mean by "protect your ethics"? Thanks for all your
hard work and thought provoking subjects in Vantage Point!
Dave Garcelon, PS
Via the Internet

Lathrop responds: Thank you for taking the time to respond to this article! You have raised some good points, topics on which my own (vehement) opinions follow.

"Ethics" does indeed refer to a set of rules imposed from the outside. I called the article "The Business of Ethics" because of my experiences with those who do treat exercising ethics as a business decision, like buying ink for the printer or paying fair wages. I refer to the individuals who ask, "What’s the least I can get away with?" or "Will the quality of my firm’s work suffer noticeably?"

I agree with you that "business ethics" refers to the mode of behavior in work situations, although ideally this would be no different from behavior in home, community, or church/synagogue/mosque settings. But that slips into morality rather than ethical behavior. Both are about "right" and "wrong", but the latter is externally imposed and the former is internal, in accordance with personal ideals and principles.

Ethical practice entails full disclosure, not withholding information that could harm another individual, presenting bad news as well as good news. We "protect our ethics" when we consciously choose to do the right thing even when (and particularly when) it is not the easy thing. We slip into gray areas when we start to waffle on executing this decision. Yes, there’s the morality aspect again.

"Professionalism" entails knowledge, skill, and behavior–the last being of the sort we like to refer to as "ethical." Holding a license to practice requires passing a test of the first two aspects. The third is the hardest to prove or disprove because of its subjective nature. Is what’s okay by me okay by you? This is why we have codes of conduct, a more accurate description of what are sometimes called "codes of ethics." Like all standards, these provide the minimum and not the optimum guidance.

I’m sure there will be more philosophical discussion on this topic, but that’s what I had hoped for. Thanks again for reading and responding.

Got some feedback?
You can contact us via our website at, or send a letter to: The American Surveyor, P.O. Box 4162, Frederick, MD 21705-4162. We reserve the right to edit letters for clarity and length. Due to the variety of titles used by licensed surveyors throughout the U.S., we use the title PS after the name of any registered land surveyor.

A 68Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE