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Long Wall in Utah
A continuous longwall miner
in an underground coal mine in Utah

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers about 264 million acres of land—nearly one-eighth of the United States—mostly in the western states and Alaska. The BLM also administers the mineral estate of nearly 700 million acres throughout the country. The BLM is responsible for the balanced management of the public lands and resources and their various values so that they are considered in a combination that will best serve the needs of the American people. The BLM bases its management on the principles of multiple use and sustained yield—a combination of uses that takes into account the long-term needs of future generations for renewable and nonrenewable resources. These resources include recreation, range, timber, minerals, watershed, fish and wildlife, wilderness, and natural scenic, scientific, and cultural values.

The public lands produce commodities that are key to the Nation's economy, providing economic stability and growth for local and regional economies. Energy and mineral resources generate the highest economic production values among commercial uses of both BLM-administered public lands (surface) and Federal minerals (subsurface) estate.

Public lands also provide substantial returns to the American people. In 1999, these activities generated $1.2 billion in revenue. Energy and mineral royalties, rents, bonuses, sales, and fees accounted for $1.1 billion of the total. The direct and indirect economic impact of energy and mineral production on the public lands amounted to an estimated $24.7 billion.


Can I file a mining claim on any Federal land?

No—not all Federal lands are open for mining claims. There are federally administered lands in 19 States where you may locate a mining claim or site: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. In these States, the BLM manages the surface public lands and the Forest Service manages the surface National Forest System lands. Excepting mineral materials, the BLM is responsible for the minerals on both public lands and National Forest System lands.

You may prospect and locate claims and sites on lands open to mineral entry. Claims may not be staked in areas closed to mineral entry by a special act of Congress, regulation, or public land order. These areas are withdrawn from the operation of the mining laws.

Potash Ore
Potash ore being moved
on a conveyor belt

Areas withdrawn from location of mining claims include National Parks, National Monuments, Indian reservations, most reclamation projects, military reservations, scientific testing areas, most wildlife protection areas (such as Federal wildlife refuges), and lands withdrawn from mineral entry for other reasons. Lands withdrawn for power development may be subject to mining location and entry only under certain conditions. Mining claims may not be located on lands that have been:

Locatable (hard-rock) minerals on most lands acquired by the United States and on Indian reservations are leasable. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for leasing minerals on Tribal lands and lands held in trust for the benefit of individual American Indians.

Can I start mining after I file my mining claim?

No. You must get all necessary permits before you start mining, even if you have completed filing your mining claim. Most Federal agencies have regulations to protect the surface resources of the Federal lands during exploration and mining activities. You must submit a notice or a plan of operations before conducting any surface-disturbing activities, except for casual use activities. You also must reclaim disturbed sites after you complete your exploration and mining activities. Most State governments also have mining and reclamation requirements. To avoid duplication, several states have entered into cooperative agreements with Federal agencies. Operators should check with Federal and State agencies to determine the proper lead agency before submitting a notice of mining plan.

  • BLM Lands: Exploration and mining activities on mining claims on BLM administered land are subject to the regulations of the Secretary of the Interior in 43 CFR 3809 and for Wilderness Study Areas, 43 CFR 3802. These regulations require an operator to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the land. For activities other than casual use, they require the operator to submit either a notice or a plan of operations and a reclamation plan.
  • Forest Service Lands: Exploration and mining activities on lands administered by the Forest Service are subject to the regulations of the Secretary of Agriculture in 36 CFR 228(A). These regulations require that anyone whose proposed operation could likely cause significant disturbance of surface resources must submit a plan of operations. Miners wishing to prospect or locate claims or sites in National Forests should contact the local Forest Service District Ranger concerning questions about operating plans.

Reclaimation of Phosphate Mine
Reclamation of a phosphate mine in Utah

How can I get minerals commonly used for construction?

There is no specific application form for requesting removal of mineral materials from public lands. Persons interested in buying mineral materials on public land should contact the nearest BLM Field Office or the Forest Service for mineral materials located in National Forests.

Can I get mineral materials for free?

The BLM may grant free use permits to governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations and corporations. The permittee is not allowed to barter or sell the mineral materials acquired under the permit. Federal, State, and local governmental agencies may be granted free use permits for mineral materials, if they can show that a public need exists for the material. The BLM may allow non-profit organizations and corporations, such as churches and scouting organizations to remove limited quantities of mineral materials.

Do I need a lease to explore for leasable minerals?

No. You may get an exploration license to explore for solid minerals. For solid minerals other than coal, you may also be able to get a prospecting permit. Exploration licenses give you no right to lease a deposit should you find one. Prospecting permits give you a preference right to lease a deposit should you find one.

How do I lease solid minerals other than coal or oil shale?

 Panning for Gold
Panning for gold in Oregon's Roseburg District

BLM issues leases in two different ways for solid leasable minerals other than coal and oil shale. The BLM issues competitive leases in areas where we know there is a mineral deposit. We issue competitive leases through a bidding process. BLM will issue prospecting permits in areas where we do not know a mineral deposit exists. The BLM considers the comprehensive land use plan for the area and environmental concerns before issuing any lease.

Does the leasing of Federal coal generate any revenues?

Yes. Lease applicants pay a bonus at the time the BLM issues them a lease and are required to make rental payments as long as they hold a lease. Lessees also pay royalties on the value of coal mined under any Federal lease. The leasing and production of Federal coal generated about $312 million in revenue in 1999.

How much coal is produced from Federal coal leases?

During the 1990s, about 350 million tons of coal, with a value of about $2.9 billion, was produced annually from Federal coal leases.

Are there any revenues from the leasing of solid minerals other than coal or oil shale?

Yes. Lessees must pay a bonus bid that equals or exceeds the fair market value of the deposit when they get a competitive lease. All lessees must pay rental and royalties on their leases. During the 1990s revenue from these kinds of leases generated about $30 million per year.



Does BLM produce solid minerals?

No. The BLM does not produce minerals. The agency issues permits and leases to companies so they may explore for and produce solid minerals. We also issue free use permits for mineral materials to government agencies, charitable organizations, and non-profit corporations. We review mine plans, plans of operation and other development plans to ensure that mineral resources are conserved and other resources are protected. We also ensure that the government is properly compensated for minerals produced from public land.

 Lead Mining Operation
A lead mining operation near Viburnum, Missouri

What solid minerals do companies produce from public land?

Companies produce a wide variety of solid minerals from the public land including:

  • coal for electricity,
  • sodium for industrial chemicals,
  • phosphate and potassium for fertilizer,
  • sand and gravel for roads and other construction projects, and
  • metals like copper, gold, and platinum.


Are there other laws important to solid mineral development?

Yes. There are many significant laws important to solid mineral development. Many of these laws amended the key mineral disposal statutes listed above. Other laws govern the management of the public land and the protection of the environment. Some of these laws are:

  • the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976,
  • the Surface Mine Reclamation and Enforcement Act of 1977 (administered by the Office of Surface Mining, another Interior Department agency),
  • the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969,
  • the Threatened and Endangered Species Act of 1973,
  • and the Clean Water Act.

There are also State laws regulating mine reclamation and other Federal and State laws that protect the environment and regulate workplace health and safety that companies must follow.

What are "locatable minerals"?

Locatable minerals can be obtained by filing a mining claim. Locatable minerals include both metallic minerals (gold, silver, lead, etc.) and nonmetallic minerals (fluorspar, asbestos, mica, gemstones, etc.). Originally, all minerals except for coal were obtained under the General Mining Laws, however, Congress has removed certain minerals from the operation of the General Mining Law.

  • Leasable Minerals. Since 1920, the Federal Government has leased fuels and certain other minerals. Leasable minerals today include oil and gas, oil shale, geothermal resources, potash, sodium, native asphalt, solid and semisolid bitumen, bituminous rock, phosphate, and coal. Sulfur is leasable on public lands in Louisiana and New Mexico.
  • Mineral Materials. Since 1947, the Federal Government has sold common varieties of sand, gravel, stone, pumice, pumicite, cinders, and ordinary clay. Use of salable minerals requires either a sales contract or a free use permit. The BLM may issue free use permits to a government agency or a non-profit organization. The Forest Service administers the disposal of salable minerals from National Forest System lands.

BLM Compliance Inspection
BLM compliance inspection of Homestake's McLaughlin Gold Mine, Clear Lake, California

What is a mining claim?

A mining claim is a particular parcel of Federal land, valuable for a specific mineral deposit or deposits. It is a parcel for which an individual has asserted a right of possession. The right is restricted to the extraction and development of a mineral deposit as regulated by the BLM or the Forest Service. The rights granted by a mining claim are valid against a challenge by the United States and other claimants only after the discovery of a valuable mineral deposit. Generally speaking, a mining claim is referred to as a "lode claim" if mineralization occurs as a vein of ore in place or as a "placer claim" if minerals are dispersed among particles of sand or gravel. A millsite claim is one used to process locatable minerals.