Split Estate

If you purchase property in many parts of the Rocky Mountain West, you may not be purchasing all of the surface and mineral estate, meaning the surface rights may be privately owned while the subsurface mineral rights belong to the Federal government.

These “split estate” situations are the legacy of the Stock Raising Homestead Act (SRHA) of 1916. The law allowed a settler to claim 640 acres of non-irrigable land that had been designated by the Secretary of the Interior as "stock raising" land. Mineral exploration was beginning to escalate and the Federal government opted to maintain the mineral rights to the land claimed under this law.

As a result, a landowner owns the surface rights for lands patented under the SRHA. The landowner has the right to develop these lands in the manner set forth by the Homestead Acts, as intended by Congress. This includes developing water sources and infrastructure associated with grazing and raising forage crops.

Mineral resources that were reserved in these patents belong to the United States. As the landowner, you do not have the right to sell the mineral resources from lands patented under the SRHA. These minerals are under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior and administered by the BLM. Generally, the owner of the surface estate may use, without the benefit of a sales contract or permit, minimal amounts of mineral materials for their personal use within the boundaries of the surface estate.

To determine the mineral ownership under your land, contact your local BLM office. Staff there will assist you determine if the minerals are Federally owned. You or a BLM specialist will check the master title plat for both surface and mineral ownership. You should also check the original land patent to determine under which Homestead Act your lands were originally patented. Some Homestead Acts only reserved certain minerals, where the SRHA reserved all minerals.

If you have already begun mineral extraction or removal without a permit, stop immediately. You may be in trespass. If you are unsure or have questions, please contact your local BLM office.