How to Stake a Mining Claim
A Brief Introduction to US Federal Mining Claims
The General Mining Act of 1872 grants all US citizens ages 18 and older the right to locate a mining claim on federal lands open to mineral entry. Lands not open to mineral entry are exempt from the Mining Act and may not be filed upon. These lands may include, but are not limited to: wilderness areas, conservation areas, national parks and monuments, wildlife reserves, state lands, military and Indian reservations, and lands with private mineral conveyances. Some claims may be “grandfathered” in to these withdrawal areas in cases where the claim predated the newer land designation.
As of Oct. 1st, 1994 there has been a congressional moratorium on patent applications so all federal mining claims must for now remain unpatented. Surface rights are not conveyed via title but in some cases where a mining plan has been filed an operator may prevent public access to parts of the claim required for operations incident to the mining. Parts of the claims which are not incident to a valid mining operation remain open to the public for non-mining uses.
Mining claims are only valid upon a valid locatable mineral discovery. Minerals and resources not classified as “locatable” are considered “leasable”, and these include (among other things) coal, phosphates, oil and gas, and sand and gravel.
Step 1: Locating a Mining Claim
In order to make a valid mineral discovery you must first insure that the land you intend to prospect upon is not currently under claim. To file a valid claim one must further insure that their discovery is not located upon lands which have had their minerals withdrawn, which I will cover in a moment.
While technically every claim must have corners posted and a valid location monument in place, this is often not the case. Markers can be stolen or removed/destroyed by animals and so may occasionally go missing. So this is generally an unreliable way to locate current mining claims, but one should always keep a keen eye out for existing posts and monuments while prospecting in the field.
So how exactly does a person determine if land is open to claim?
Well, as all claims must be recorded within the county of their location, the best way to determine the location of existing claims is to pull copies of all the location certificates within the area of your interest. You may find these records at the recorder’s office in the county upon which your mineral discovery lies within. You can reference and find these documents via owner name, claim name, a date range, and often by township, section, and range. So make sure you have some data to work with before you visit the recorder. On these location certificates you will find a map of the claim, a geographic description of the claim, a location date, and the locator(s) names and mailing address. This should be the same certificate you will find posted on the actual claim somewhere, often on the location monument.
You may pull records from the BLM’s LR2000 database online but this is not a substitute for a proper location certificate and a person should be aware that these records are not updated frequently, can be incorrect, and only depict claim boundaries to the nearest 1/4 section. There can be 8 or more mining claims located within a single 1/4 section so one should always pull the actual location certificates from the county clerk to determine with certainty if their particular area is in fact unclaimed.
Also, be aware that paperwork may not be filed until up to 90 days (varies by state, check local laws) after a claimant makes a discovery so you should thoroughly scout your potential area for a discovery monument. These are often rock cairns that contain a location certificate with a date and a map for your reference.
Once you have determined your location is unclaimed you must then also determine if minerals are available to claim. Mineral ownership may be obtained from either BLM surface management maps or from Master Title Plats. MTP’s can often be obtained at your state BLM office, the county recorder, or the GLO website. Be aware that some minerals on some federal lands have been withdrawn and are not claimable even though the land itself has not been designated a withdraw area. Any claim filed on withdrawn minerals is invalid, though you may be allowed to amend the location especially if parts of your claim fall upon valid locatable minerals.
Now that you have found open land to prospect and claim, your next task is to locate a valuable mineral deposit. There is a plethora of different methods to prospect so we will not cover that here, but what you need to know is that once you’ve located a potential deposit it must conform to two general rules which determine the viability of a claim according to case law and the Secretary of the Interior:
- The Prudent Man Rule: “Where minerals have been found and the evidence is of such a character that a person of ordinary prudence would be justified in the further expenditure of his labor and means, with a reasonable prospect of success, in developing a valuable mine, the requirements of the statute have been met.“
- The Marketability Test: “A mineral locator or applicant, to justify his possession must show by reason of accessibility, bona fides in development, proximity to market, existence of present demand, and other factors, the deposit is of such value that it can be mined, removed, and disposed of at a profit.“
Once you have located a deposit that exists on claimable and unclaimed ground, and you believe it conforms to these two rules you can now move on to step 2: staking your claim.
Step 2: Staking a Mining Claim
With your deposit located, the next step is to monument your claim with a discovery marker. State laws regarding markers vary, but in most cases constructing a stone mound of at least 3′ in height will conform to requirements. Construct this monument as close to your original discovery as possible, and in a conspicuous and visible location. You will later place your location certificate in or on this marker so that other’s may determine it’s purpose and be alerted that a new claim has been staked.
You must now determine what the boundaries of your claim will be, but your boundaries must conform to certain geographic description standards which vary according to the type of mineral deposit you have claimed.
There are two types of mining claims: Lode and Placer. Lode claims cover in-situ (aka, unmoved) deposits such as veins or massive disseminated deposits which are still in their natural position in which they originally mineralized. These claims are commonly referred to as “hard rock” claims. Placer claims cover all over forms of mineral deposits not located with a lode claim, commonly upon secondary deposits derived from lode sources.
Lode claims are described geographically using “metes and bounds”. Using this land description one generally describes an initial point based on local geography or known locations and then describes each side of the claim border relative to that starting point using a bearing and a range. Lode claims are limited in size to a distance of 1500′ in length along the lode and 600′ in width.
Placer claims must be described geographically using “aliquot parts” whenever possible. Aliquot parts descriptions are based off the BLM PLSS surveys which have subdivided the country into meridians, townships, ranges, and sections. A locator may describe a smaller part of one of these sections using common surveying format as illustrated in the accompanying diagram. In certain cases, such as upon unsurveyed lands, they may be described using metes and bounds. A placer claim may contain up to 8 individual locators and any placer claim with more than 1 locator is referred to as an “association claim”. Each locator may claim a maximum of 20 acres so that largest individual locator claim size is 20 acres and the largest association claim size is 160 acres.
Having now determined which deposit type you plan to claim, and subsequently what your claim boundaries will be, you must now locate your claim corner points. Most commonly a GPS is used to locate these points, but a surveyor may be enlisted if you are not comfortable with locating the points yourself. Upon each corner point a marker must be placed. Laws vary from state to state with regards to what sort of marker or monument may be used, but in general a 4’x4′ wooden post placed 1′ into the ground will meet federal and state requirements. Be aware that many states have recently banned use of uncapped, and in some cases, capped PVC in response to concerns about animals becoming trapped within.
There are available third party “Federal Mining Claim” signs that may be purchased and posted on your corner monuments or other places around the claim to notify the public that your claim is active, but these signs are not required.
So, now you should have placed a location monument at your point of discovery and properly marked the corners of your claim boundary. The next step is to make your claim official on paper and to file this paperwork with the required government offices.
Step 3: Filing a Mining Claim
With all required groundwork complete the next step is to create your location certificate. This will be the document you file with the county clerk and the BLM to make your claim “official”.
There are a variety of different forms available for you to use to create your location certificate. Some may be downloaded from the BLM, some can be purchased from mining stores or downloaded from private sources, or you may create your own form. There is not an “official” certificate form but you must be certain to include the following information on any form you use or create:
- Claim name
- Locator names, signatures, and mailing addresses
- Type of claim (Placer or Lode)
- Location date
- Legal land description
- Map of claim (may be on a separate page)
If you have discovered parts of your new claim overlies land classified as a power site withdrawal then you may file your location certificate under Public Law 359 which allows for active mining to take place on power site withdrawals unless the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) decides they need your site for federal projects. Most of these withdrawals were for potential dam sites on rivers and streams and are no longer being actively considered for construction. Simply include the words “This claim is being filed under PL-359” in a visible location on your location certificate and when the BLM files your paperwork they will also submit your claim to the FERC review board. Review has been taking around 3 weeks on average, but may occur soon or later than that. You can determine if your site lies over a power site withdrawal by consulting the Master Title Plat, which you may obtain via the sources listed earlier in this tutorial.
Upon completing your location certificate, a copy should be posted on your location monument so that others may see that you have staked and filed a claim here and it is no longer available for others to claim. Due to weather, some people place the certificate in a sealed container nailed to the monument or placed inside a pile of rocks.
The next step is to take your location certificate to the county recorder in which your claim is located and have them officially record and file it. State law varies, but generally you have between 30-90 days to file your location certificate with the county after the date of location but you should verify with your county of interest.
And finally, you must now file a copy of the stamped and dated location certificate you received back from the recorder with the state BLM headquarters office. You have 90 days after the original date of location to file this certificate. You must also submit the required fees with your certificate. As of this writing the BLM charges a $15 processing fee, a $34 location fee, and a $140 maintenance fee for the first assessment year.
For placer claims, a new ruling as of 2012 requires an additional $140 maintenance fee for each 20 acre parcel in an association claim.
Upon filing with the BLM your claim will be reviewed and if found valid, assigned a unique serial number.
Congratulations, you have now successfully filed and own a US federal mining claim!