Print Page

Mining Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can I file a mining claim to get my own land in the mountains?

I read somewhere that BLM can sell me 20 acres of land for just $20 for my exclusive use.

Answer: No. A mining claim on public lands is a "possessory interest." This means that a mining claimant has a limited right to the location for mining or milling purposes only. No deed accompanies this right. It does not grant exclusive right to "vacation" or "fish" on the land to the claim holder. If the surface use is not otherwise encumbered, anyone may enter upon public lands for recreational purposes.

Mineral claims are not a homesteading program. The federal government requires an initial payment to file a mining claim, followed by a annual maintenance fee. In addition, each of the individual states or counties may have their own recording schedules and fee requirements that a prospective claim-holder would need to research.

Mineral title may be conveyed only with a valid discovery of a commercially profitable mineral deposit. Note: since October 1, 1994, Congress has imposed a moratorium on BLM accepting any new mineral patent applications.

Contact the appropriate Bureau of Land Management (BLM) State Office, in the state in which you desire to locate a claim, for further information about filing locations within that State.

Information, from location of claims to patenting of mining claims, is available for each respective state in all BLM State Office Information Access Centers . This information may be obtained upon request and without charge from any BLM State Office.

Q. How do I locate a mining claim?

Answer: 1. Before you can locate a claim, you must determine if the lands are open to location. You can find this out at any BLM office. No claims can be staked in areas closed to mineral entry under certain acts, regulations, or public land orders. BLM refers to these as withdrawn lands.

2. On lands open to location, you may prospect and properly locate claims and sites. If lands have already been claimed, you may want to find another location.

3. If your parcel of land is open to location, the next step is staking the claim. Federal law specifies that claim boundaries must be distinctly and clearly marked to be readily identifiable.

4. Recordation of mining claims -- location certificates for claims and sites must be recorded with BOTH the county recorder's office as well as the appropriate BLM State Office.

BLM's deadlines for location are: ALL CLAIMS AND SITES - 90 days from date of location to record claims.

5. No specific form for location certificates is required, but the basic information can be found in Public Land Regulations at 43 CFR 3833.11. It can also be found in the circular Mining Claims and Sites on Federal Lands. A separate location notice is required for each claim or site recorded.

Q. What are the Governing Laws for mining?

Answer: In 1872, congress passed the General Mining Law which stated that all un-appropriated lands were open to entry and purchase. In the ensuing 130 years it has been amended by acts of congress and interpreted by countless court decisions but is largely intact. Currently ores of metallic elements and uncommon varieties of non metallic deposits are available for entry and purchase under that act. Mining claims are located; therefore the term "locatable" mineral.

The BLM Montana State Office Mining has a good web site on claims and location procedures.

The federal regulations that pertain to the location of mining claims are found in 43 CFR 3830. Federal regulations can now be viewed on line at the Government Printing Office site which also includes federal register notices. There is also a site that contains the federal register notice publishing the regulations.

Q. How can I learn more about unpatented mining claims?

A record of unpatented claims is now available on line (LR2000). All unpatented mining claim records can be reviewed at this site. It is recommended that the user look through the tutorial. This system was designed to accommodate records review across all public domain states. Certain procedures need to be used to identify a claim location or for pulling up reports. For example, Township 12 South would be listed as 0120S. Section 22 would be 022. Once a person picks up a few tricks like this, the system can provide up-to-date information on current and closed unpatented mining claims in BLM records. For the field office area you will also need to note whether the location is in the 6th principle meridian or the New Mexico principle meridian. If you need some basic familiarity with how the public land survey system, township and range, etc. go to this excellent BLM site called Geocommunicator .

Q. How can I get mining claim patent information?

BLM often receives requests for information about original patents on mining claims, some of this is from a historical perspective. The BLM is in the process of providing some of these patent records on line . This site provides information on various land patents. In order to do an effective search you will need to have some basic information such as location or the patent serial number.

All lode and many placer claims were surveyed prior to patent. These surveys are known as mineral surveys and records of these surveys are currently kept on microfiche. The BLM has a full set of these mineral surveys that can be viewed and/or copied for a fee. There are some sites that were surveyed but never patented and these are also in the records.

Q. What are the regulations for locatable mineral mining and prospecting operations?

There are three levels of activity under the federal surface management regulations. A copy of the surface management regulations as published in 2001 are available for review.

Casual use: No notification to the BLM is required but you must reclaim any casual use disturbance that you create. Casual use generally includes:

  • the collection of geo-chemical, rock, soil, or mineral specimens using hand tools
  • hand panning; or non-motorized sluicing

Casual use does not include:

  • use of mechanized earthmoving equipment
  • truck mounted drilling equipment
  • motorized vehicles in areas when designated as closed to "off road vehicles''
  • chemicals, or explosives

It also does not include "occupancy'' as defined in Sec. 3715.0-5 of this title or operations in areas where the cumulative effects of the activities result in more than negligible disturbance.

Notice Level: Generally notice level activity applies to exploration. Exploration means creating surface disturbance greater than casual use that includes sampling, drilling, or developing surface or underground workings to evaluate the type, extent, quantity, or quality of mineral values present. Exploration does not include activities where material is extracted for commercial use or sale.

Last updated: 03-05-2010