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Highlights

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.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status
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.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Department of the Interior 2. 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.
Closed - Implemented
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.
Department of Agriculture 3. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Department of the Interior 4. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Department of Agriculture 5. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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.
Department of the Interior 6. 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.
Closed - Not Implemented
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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