Mining Law Administration
This includes the General Mining Law of 1872, as amended; those portions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended (FLPMA) that affect the General Mining Law; and the Surface Resources Act of 1955. See the brochure Mining Claims and Sites on Federal Lands.
1. Mining Claim Recordation and the Annual Maintenance Fee
This program area, established by section 314 of the FLPMA (43 USC 1744 and 43 CFR 3833) and amended by annual budget acts, concerns the location and recording of mining claims and sites, recording of title transfers to mining claims and sites, payment of annual fees and filings of annual assessment work documents, and deferments of assessment work. It also includes the adjudication of these required filings, fees, and transfers, and the issuance of decisions voiding out claims and sites that fail to comply with these requirements. The Bureau has on record (1998) approximately 290,000 mining claims Nationwide, including Alaska. The BLM's annual statistics for mining claims are published in the Public Land Statistics.
2. Mineral Patents
The General Mining Law of 1872, as amended (30 USC 29 and 43 CFR 3860, provides the successful mining claimant the right to patent (acquire absolute title to the land) mining claims or sites if they meet the statutory requirements. To meet this requirement, the successful claimant must:
- For mining claims, demonstrate a physical exposure of a valuable (commercial) mineral deposit (the discovery) as defined by meeting the Department's Prudent Man Rule(1)and Marketability Test(2)
- For mill sites, show proper use or occupancy for uses to support a mining operation and be located on non-mineral land.
- Have clear title to the mining claim (lode or placer) or mill site.
- Have assessment work and/or maintenance fees current and performed at least $500 worth of improvements (not labor) for each claim (not required for mill sites).
- Meet the requirements of the Department's regulations for mineral patenting as shown in the Code of Federal Regulations at 43 CFR 3861, 3862, 3863, and 3864.
- Pay the required processing fees and purchase price for the land applied for.
- The BLM administers this program through its 12 State Offices and the Headquarters office. The program has two essential components, adjudication and mineral examination. A staff of land law examiners in each State Office adjudicates applications for completeness and compliance with the law and regulations. All aspects, except the mineral examination are handled here. Once the application has successfully passed through the adjudication process, the case is assigned to the BLM field office for a formal mineral examination to verify the discovery of a valuable (commercially viable) mineral deposit on the mining claims and proper use or occupancy for any mill sites.
- Mineral examiners are BLM geologists and mining engineers who have been certified by the Director to perform mineral examinations and to compile the necessary mineral report demonstrating the applicant's compliance with this aspect of the General Mining Law. Applications not demonstrating a discovery or proper use or occupation are subject to a mineral contest proceeding and possible loss of the associated mining claims and sites. If the mineral report confirms the discovery of a valuable mineral deposit and/or proper use and occupancy for any associated mill sites, BLM will send the application to the Secretary of the Interior for final review and action. If the applicant is successful on all points, BLM issues a mineral patent for the land applied for. Note: Since October 1, 1994, Congress has imposed a budget moratorium on BLM acceptance of any new mineral patent applications. Until the moratorium is lifted, the BLM will not accept any new applications.
3. Surface Management Program
This program area concerns authorizing and permitting of mineral exploration, mining, and reclamation actions on the public lands administered by BLM. It is mandated by section 302(b) of FLPMA (43 USC 1732[b] and 603[c]; 43 CFR 3802 and 43 CFR 3809). All operations of any nature that disturb the surface of the mining claim or site require authorization. The necessary authorizations and permits are obtained through the proper BLM field office.
The BLM regulations establish three levels of authorization, (1) casual use, (2) notice level, and (3) plans of operations. Casual use involves minor activity with hand tools, no explosives, and no mechanized earth moving equipment. No permit is required. Notice level activities involve use of explosives and/or earth moving equipment. The total annual unreclaimed surface disturbance must not exceed 5 acres per calendar year. A plan of operations is required for all other surface disturbance activities. A full environmental assessment and reclamation bonding are required.
4. Surface Use and Occupancy
This program area concerns the proper occupation (residency or seasonal occupation of mining claims by mining claimants. It is administered pursuant to the Surface Resources Act of 1955 (30 USC 611-615; 43 CFR 3715). It provides that if you live on a mining claim or site, the occupation must be justified as reasonably incident to mining and exploration and that no other reasonable options for shelter are available while working the claims. The occupation must be authorized by the proper field office through a notice or plan of operations. There are severe penalties for unauthorized residences and occupancies (see the regulations at 43 CFR 3715).
5. Valid and Existing Rights Determinations
Holders of mining claims and sites located within lands later withdrawn from mineral entry must prove their right to continue to occupy and use the land for mining purposes. The owner must demonstrate they contain a discovery of a valuable mineral deposit and/or are used and occupied properly under the General Mining Law, as of the date of withdrawal and as of the date of the mineral examination. Mining claims or sites whose discovery or use or occupation cannot be demonstrated on the date of withdrawal or the date of mineral examination have no valid existing rights and will be contested by the Department.
1. The Prudent Man Rule was first defined in Castle v Womble, 19 LD 455 (1894), where the Secretary of the Interior held that: "Where minerals have been found and the evidence is of such a character that a person of ordinary prudence would be justified in the further expenditure of his labor and means, with a reasonable prospect of success, in developing a valuable mine, the requirements of the statute have been met."
2. The Marketability Test was first defined by the Secretary of the Interior in Solicitor's Opinion, 54 ID 294 (1933): "...a mineral locator or applicant, to justify his possession must show by reason of accessibility, bona fides in development, proximity to market, existence of present demand, and other factors, the deposit is of such value that it can be mined, removed, and disposed of at a profit."