Federal Land Management:

Unauthorized Activities Occurring on Hardrock Mining Claims

RCED-90-111: Published: Aug 17, 1990. Publicly Released: Aug 31, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed unauthorized nonmining surface activities occurring on mineral mining claims on federally owned land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service.

GAO found that: (1) out of 662,000 mining claims in Arizona, California, and Nevada, about 1,600 have known or suspected unauthorized activities occurring on them; (2) claim holders did not have to prove discovery of a valuable mineral deposit to maintain their claims, unless the government challenged the validity of their claims; (3) some claim holders are using their claims for unauthorized residences, illegal activities, or speculative activities not related to legitimate mining; (4) unauthorized residences have resulted in several problems, including blocked access or rights-of-way, environmental eyesores caused by abandoned vehicles, dumped garbage, and unauthorized road construction; and (5) BLM and the Forest Service could act to reduce unauthorized activities on mining claims.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To discourage more claim holders not intent on developing their claims and more activities not incidental to mining, Congress should amend the mining law to require claim holders to pay the federal government an annual holding fee that can be graduated over time. In establishing such a fee, a balance must be struck between an amount high enough to discourage those not intent on developing their claims from retaining existing claims and filing new ones, and an amount low enough not to discourage legitimate miners.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior's FY 1993 Appropriation Bill requires claim holders to pay a $100 holding fee for 1993 and 1994. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 extends the holding fee through 1998. In addition, legislation introduced in the House (H.R. 322) and the Senate (S. 775) propose a holding fee. The conference did not report out legislation.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: If any such revisions require legislative changes, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to submit the appropriate language to Congress for its consideration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The need for action was dependent on the results of the BLM/Forest Service study. The study produced no results so the recommendation is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: To reduce the number of unauthorized activities on hardrock mining claims on federal land, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to jointly review the process for invalidating claims to determine whether changes, such as eliminating BLM review and approval of the Forest Service's mineral examinations, can make the process more efficient.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: BLM and the Forest Service studied the process for invalidating claims and could not agree on any changes. They have terminated consideration of this recommendation. With the BLM and Forest Service study completed and no action taken, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To reduce the number of unauthorized activities on hardrock mining claims on federal land, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to jointly review the process for invalidating claims to determine whether changes, such as eliminating BLM review and approval of the Forest Service's mineral examinations, can make the process more efficient.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: BLM and the Forest Service studied the process for invalidating claims and could not agree on any changes. They have terminated consideration of this recommendation. With the BLM/Forest Service study completed and no action taken, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To reduce the number of unauthorized activities on hardrock mining claims on federal land, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to revise their surface management regulations to clearly state that residency and nonmining commercial activities are normally not authorized on hardrock mining claims, thereby shifting the burden of proof to the claim holder to show that an activity is incidental to mining.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On July 16, 1996, Interior issued a final rule (43 C.F.R. 3710) that addresses the recommendation. The rule was effective August 15, 1996.

    Recommendation: To reduce the number of unauthorized activities on hardrock mining claims on federal land, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to revise their surface management regulations to clearly state that residency and nonmining commercial activities are normally not authorized on hardrock mining claims, thereby shifting the burden of proof to the claim holder to show that an activity is incidental to mining.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated a revision of its surface management regulations as part of an overall revision of its 36 C.F.R. 228 subpart A regulations. However, the Forest Service suspended further work on the revision pending congressional action on the mining law. If the law is revised, the Forest Service will do a substantial revision of the regulation.

    Recommendation: If any such revisions require legislative changes, the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the Director, BLM, and the Chief, Forest Service, respectively, to submit the appropriate language to Congress for its consideration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The need for action was dependent on the results of the BLM/Forest Service study. The study produced no results so the recommendation is no longer applicable.

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