Locatable Minerals

Locatable Minerals

Picture of Gate on Mining Claim Entrance

The federal law governing locatable minerals is the General Mining Law of 1872 (May 10, 1872), which declared all valuable mineral deposits belonging to the United States ... to be free and open to citizens of the United States to explore for, discover, and purchase.

Mineral deposits subject to acquisition in this manner are generally referred to as “locatable minerals.” Locatable minerals include metallic minerals (gold, silver, lead, copper, zinc, nickel, etc.), nonmetallic minerals (fluorspar, mica, certain limestones and gypsum, tantalum, heavy minerals in placer form and gemstones) and certain uncommon variety minerals. It is very difficult to prepare a complete list of locatable minerals because the history of the law has resulted in a definition of minerals that includes economics.

Surface Management Provisions for Hard Rock Mining

The term “3809 regulations” refers to the Federal requirements in place for locatable mineral mines and prospecting operations.

Before a claimant can engage in any surface disturbing activity, mechanized exploration, mining, residency, or site occupation, the party with the claim must file a plan of operations or notice of intent with BLM to conduct the appropriate review and permitting outlined by the regulations. The BLM requires an approved plan of operations for mining activity that disturbs more than five acres of public land or that could result in commercial mining. 

In addition to state of Colorado requirements, the Federal regulations identify three tiers of use on a mining claim based on surface disturbance and commercial use (sales). 


Casual use prospecting includes those activities which cause very little or no surface disturbance. For example: collection of geochemical, rock, soil, or mineral specimens using hand tools; hand panning; or non-motorized sluicing. It also generally includes use of metal detectors, gold spears and other battery-operated devices for sensing the presence of minerals, and hand and battery-operated dry washers. Operators may use motorized vehicles for casual use activities only if the use is consistent with the regulations governing such use (43 CFR 8340) including following off-road vehicle use designations and temporary closures ordered by BLM. Casual use operations do not require notification of the BLM except where specific land use or recreation area plans call for a recreational mining permit. You must reclaim any casual-use disturbance that you create.

Rockhounding & Fossil Collecting BrochureRecreational Mineral Collection

The limits and procedures for properly prospecting and collecting for some minerals, as well as fossil hunting, may be obtained by contacting the BLM Field Office personnel in the area where you intend to collect. 

If you intend to sell the specimens you collect, your level of activity is no longer considered casual use, and you must contact the BLM Field Office personnel for additional necessary requirements prior to collecting, such as a Special Use Permit.   A Special Use Permit may be obtained for a small quantity of material.

Casual use is defined by activities that cause very little or no disturbance to the land.  Mineral specimen collection, commonly called "rockhounding," is defined by collecting up to a five-gallon bucket for personal use in one day using hand tools.  Gold panning and non-motorized sluicing are also examples of casual use activity.  Suction dredging (less than 8 horsepower and 4" suction nozzle or less) are considered recreational activities that are allowed on most BLM lands.

Mining Claims on Federal Lands Brochure


A person must file a Notice of Intent to Conduct Prospecting Operations (NOI) with the appropriate BLM field office, as defined in 43 CFR 3809 regulations. Notice level prospecting means any prospecting operation that is motorized, mechanized, uses explosives or is reasonably expected to result in greater land disturbance other than is caused by the ordinary, lawful use of the land by persons not prospecting. The operator will be required to provide a financial guarantee warranty for reclamation costs of the prospecting operations which is filed and held by Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (CDRMS) in the form of a cash bond, or a corporate or insurance instrument. Surface disturbance is limited to five acres.

A mining claim is located in order to acquire the right to develop the mineral values in a specified area.  Miners may locate claims to obtain exclusive rights, beginning on the date the valid claim was located, to develop the minerals under the claim.



An approved Plan of Operations (mine plan) is required for exploration activities disturbing in excess of five acres, bulk sampling of 1,000 tons or more and all proposed mining or milling operations (regardless of the acreage disturbed). A mine plan is required for any operation causing surface disturbance greater than Casual Use in special status areas as defined in 43 CFR 3809.11. Financial warranty must be supplied for all plan level operations.

If you are considering filing a mining claim or site or are currently a mining claimant, important announcements and information regarding the Mining Law are available by following this link to our website.

Links to 3809 Handbooks
Handbook Section, H-3809-1 - Surface Management
Solid Minerals Reclamation Handbook
Field Office Websites