New Mexico has some of the oldest mining areas in the United States. Native Americans mined turquoise more than 500 years before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1600s. American miners came to the Ortiz Mountains in New Mexico seeking gold in 1828, more than two decades before the California and Nevada gold rushes. Some consider this the first Western gold rush.
While New Mexico’s mines never rivaled California’s or Nevada’s, they left the same legacy of scattered abandoned mine sites throughout the State. New Mexico has 140 hardrock mining districts established mostly in the 1800s for the mining of (in the order of value mined) copper, zinc, silver, gold, and lead and from 1950-70 for uranium. About a half dozen of these mine sites are still active, mining primarily copper, molybdenum, gold, and silver.
AML sites on BLM land near recreation facilities and in high public use areas are identified as high priority for closure. A site where a fatality or injury has occurred receives the highest priority. Currently, New Mexico has an inventory of over 600 known hardrock abandoned mine sites on BLM-managed land that may pose physical safety hazards to the public.
Within these sites, over 2500 mine features, mostly open shafts and adits, have been identified. There are no inventoried sites on BLM land in New Mexico that are known to impact water resources.
To date, over 200 sites on BLM land with physical safety hazards have been remediated, mostly by the State of New Mexico Abandoned Mine Land Bureau (AMLB) with moneys derived from fees imposed on Federal coal production in New Mexico (Title IV of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).
High priority sites are recommended to the AMLB for remediation, who issues contracts for projects that usually involve private, State, and BLM lands. If a BLM high priority site does not fit into an AMLB project, BLM will separately contract closure of the site. Through an agreement, BLM may supplement funding of an AMLB project.