Bull elk on Elk Mountain near Newcastle, Wyoming. Photo by Nate West. Oil rig in Wyoming. Wild horse near Rock Springs, Wyoming. Coal mining operations in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming. Pronghorn in Wyoming.
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Where Can a Claim be Located?

There are Federally administered land in 19 states where you may locate a mining claim or site. These states are 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 of public land and the Forest Service manages the surface of National Forest System (NFS) land. The BLM is responsible for the subsurface on both public and NFS land.

Only public domain minerals are locatable minerals (those minerals that have never left federal ownership). Reconveyed minerals are considered public domain minerals under the mining laws. Mining claims cannot be staked on acquired minerals; a prospecting permit (43 CFR 3500) is required to prospect for acquired minerals. Mining claims can be located on open public land administered by another federal agency (most commonly on Forest Service land).

You may prospect and locate claims and sites on public and NFS land open to mineral entry. Claims may not be located in areas closed to mineral entry by a special act of Congress, regulation, or public land order. These areas are said to be "withdrawn" from mineral entry.

Areas withdrawn from location of mining claims include:

  • National Parks,
  • National Monuments,
  • Indian reservations,
  • most reclamation projects under the Bureau of Reclamation,
  • military reservations,
  • scientific testing areas,
  • most wildlife protection areas managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service etc.

Land withdrawn for power development may be subject to mining entry and claim location only under certain conditions.

Mining claims may not be located on land that has been:

  • designated by Congress as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System,
  • designated as a wild portion of a Wild and Scenic River, or
  • withdrawn by Congress for study as a Wild and Scenic River.

There is usually a ¼-mile buffer zone withdrawn from location of mining claims on either side of a river while the river is being studied for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic River System. Additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System are withdrawn to mining claim location at the time of designation by Congress. Mining activities are permitted only on those mining claims that can show proof of discovery either (1) by December 31, 1983, or (2) on the date of designation as wilderness by Congress.

Mining claims can be located on those minerals reserved under the Stock Raising Homestead Act of 1916 (SRHA). The surface is fee, but the minerals are public domain. There are specific regulations governing the claiming of SRHA minerals - refer to the SRHA section.