Who owns the west?

Mining claims on U.S. public lands

Precious metals and minerals beneath an estimated 5.6 million acres of public land, owned by the mining industry

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The hardrock mining industry owns gold, silver, and other precious metals and minerals beneath an estimated 5.6 million acres of U.S. public land, resources worth billions of dollars a year, acquired for as little as $0.84 per acre and held in perpetuity for a yearly rental fee as low as $0.62 an acre. Under a 132-year-old law originally intended to spur development of the West, an industry dominated by a handful of multinational corporations pays no federal royalties, and leaves behind a landscape of dramatically diminished value, scarred with tunnels, pits, and toxic waste piles.

Quick facts about mining claims in The United States

• Total number of claim-holders: 28,408

• Acres of public land claimed by the mining industry, estimated: 5,569,929 (2.5 times Yellowstone National Park)

• Dollars paid for each acre: as little as $0.84, and as little as $0.62 yearly rental fee

• Reimbursement to the federal government for gold, silver and other precious metals taken from public land: $0

• Companies owning minerals on at least 10,000 public acres: 190

• Percentage of claims held by foreign companies: 21%

• Profits accrued in 2002 among top corporate claim-holders: $4 billion

• Single greatest factor controlling how much public land is claimed at any time: The price of gold

• Land area ever claimed by the mining industry nationally, estimated: 79 million acres (the size of New Mexico)

EWG analysis of data compiled by the Bureau of Land Management.

Top Mining Claim Owners in The United States Ranked by Acres Claimed

Companies have been consolidated to account for subsidiaries. View this table without consolidation.

 Company/IndividualHeadquartersNumber of ClaimsAcreage ClaimedDate(s) Filed
1 Newmont Mining Corp Denver, CO 17,643 347,458 1886 to 2003
2 Placer Dome Inc World HQ in Canada 13,766 268,758 1886 to 2003
3 Rio Tinto Limited World HQ in Australia 10,097 191,928 1886 to 2003
4 Barrick Gold Corporation World HQ in Canada 5,768 125,956 1905 to 2003
5 Phelps Dodge Mining Co Phoenix, AZ 7,105 124,297 1906 to 2000
6 Kinross World HQ in Canada 4,306 98,853 1905 to 2003
7 Cameco Corp World HQ in Canada 3,209 66,204 1953 to 2002
8 ASARCO, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico World HQ in Mexico 3,187 61,801 1890 to 2003
9 Dr Gordon Reynolds Price, UT 300 48,000 1997 to 1999
10 Carl Pescio Elko, NV 2,277 46,996 1994 to 2003
See all claim holders in The United States

Some of the claimants in this table may be in partnership with other individuals or companies with a claim to the same land.


State Ranking

 StateNumber of ClaimsEstimated Acreage  
1 Nevada 112,245 2,508,276 details map
2 Arizona 23,626 641,883 details map
3 California 20,103 635,225 details map
4 Utah 9,695 367,244 details map
5 Wyoming 12,923 353,499 details map
6 Idaho 10,610 260,185 details map
7 Montana 10,429 245,869 details map
8 Oregon 5,729 191,391 details map
9 New Mexico 6,562 170,231 details map
10 Colorado 5,107 123,457 details map
11 Washington 2,297 50,632 details map
12 South Dakota 939 22,036 details map


Examples of Mines in The United States

Name of MineLocation of MineMine StatusMetal MinedOwner or Parent Company of Owner
Meikle (goldstrike, Purple Vein ) Gold MineEureka County, NVOpenGoldBarrick Gold Corporation
Mccoy Cove Gold MineLander County, NVOpenSilver oresKinross Gold Corporation
Bagdad Copper MineYavapai County, AZOpenCopper OrePhelps Dodge
Washington NiagaraShasta County, CAOpenGoldGoddess Gold Ltd
Pinto ValleyGila County, AZClosedCopper OreBHP Billiton
Grouse Creek MineCuster County, IDClosedGoldHecla Mining Company
Golden Hand MineCuster County, IDProposedGoldAmerican Independence Mines
Rochester MinePershing County, NVOpenSilver oresCoeur D'Alene Mines Corp
Gilt Edge (brohm Mine)Lawrence County, SDClosedGoldDakota Mining Company
Kensington MineJuneau Borough County, AKProposedGoldCoeur D'Alene Mines Corp
See more mines in The United States

Source: EWG analysis.



Source: EWG analysis of Bureau of Land Management's Land and Mineral Records 2000 (LR2000) data system. For claims, acreages are estimated based on maximum allowable size of claims. For patents, acreages are taken directly from the LR2000 database where available, and are estimated based on maximum allowable size of claim that preceded the patent where acreages are not noted in LR2000. All notices are assumed to be five acres in size, and the size of plans are calculated directly as the size of the land represented by the legal land description in the LR2000 database. The acreages we estimate through these methods would tend to overestimate the actual amount. We welcome corrections here, and would welcome a federal data management system that included the acreages involved in these important federal land transactions.