Abandoned Mine Lands

AML Mine

The Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program addresses physical safety and environmental hazards associated with abandoned hard rock mines on BLM-managed public lands. Abandoned mines are those mines that were abandoned prior to January 1, 1981, the effective date of BLM’s Surface Management regulations issued under authority of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.).

Over the last 150 years, much of the land managed by the BLM has been exposed to some form of mining activity, ranging from exploration to full mine development. As ore was extracted and eventually depleted, mining operations were abandoned or moved to other locations, leaving scarred and contaminated land across many parts of the West. In many cases, these mines were not properly reclaimed, and it is rare to locate financially responsible parties due to the age of the site. Due to the circumstances, the BLM funds the costs to address physical safety and environmental threats associated with abandoned mines.

The BLM prioritizes and takes appropriate action on these historic abandoned mine sites using a risk-based approach. It is an enormous task that will take lots of time, money, and cooperation with other federal, state, and local partners. Meanwhile, the risks associated with abandoned mines remain and continue to increase because more and more remote areas are being developed or accessed for recreation. Even dangerous mines that have been properly sealed off are sometimes vandalized, entered, and left open.

This can expose anyone nearby to unexpected, serious danger.

Why Are There Abandoned Mines?

Abandoned mines are what is left over from mining activities in the distant past. Back then, mine operators could simply walk away from a mine without removing safety or environmental hazards. Today, federal and state laws require that mine operators make mine sites safe before abandoning them.

Eliminating Hazards at Abandoned Mines Will Take a Long Time

Although federal agencies are working to remove hazards and to close abandoned mines, it will take decades to complete this work. As many as half a million abandoned mines are believed to exist, and the location of many more is still unknown. Usually, sites have no signage at all to warn people about their presence or their dangers.