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Who owns the west?

How to Use This Site

Claims, patents, and plans & notices. If you are not familiar with these mining terms, learn about them below. The mining industry's ownership of minerals on public land falls into these three basic categories of data in federal land transaction records. They are also the terms we use to describe the results of our investigation into "Who Owns the West" reported in this website. Please note: this web site contains claims and patents on all federal land; however, it contains plans and notices only on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.

A mining claim gives the holder the right to mine on federal land, while a patent gives the holder outright ownership of mineral-rich land that belongs to the federal government. An individual or company must first possess a claim before applying for a patent. Before mining can begin on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, a company or individual must file a plan with the BLM. A company or individual must file a notice with the BLM before exploration causing surface disturbance can begin on five acres or less of BLM land on which reclamation has not been completed. (Rules for mining on Forest Service lands generally follow BLM rules, but differ in some respects.) On patented land, which has passed into private ownership, a mining interest no longer needs to file a plan or notice with the federal government, but must comply with other applicable federal regulations as well as state and local mining requirements (Haskins 2004, BLM Solid Minerals Group 1997, CFR Mining Claims 2004). State and local requirements are often weaker than their federal counterparts.

Find out who controls mining land in your state. In EWG's national report and state reports, learn how much of our public property is controlled by the mining industry, how much they paid for it, who the players are, the staggering cost of mining pollution, and mining regulations that too often leave the public holding the bag for mine cleanup.

Explore claims. A mining claim is a parcel of public land defined by posts driven into the ground in the corners of the parcel by a mining company or an individual. It is described in a claim form filed with the appropriate local government and Bureau of Land Management offices. For a total federal fee of $135 on a 20 to 160 acre claimed parcel (not including local filing fees), the claimant holds rights to mine the metals and minerals there. The federal government has interpreted this right to supercede all other potential uses of public land. In addition, the claim holder is not required to return any money to U.S. taxpayers for the value of the minerals extracted.

A claim does not provide the holder with the right to use the land for any purpose other than mining or milling. But a claim does allow the holder to use as much of the surface land encompassed by the claim as is reasonably necessary for mining and milling purposes. Before mining can begin, the claimant must file a plan for approval by either the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, depending on which agency manages the land in question (CFR Mining Claims 2004). Our analysis shows that active claims in 12 western states encompass an estimated 5.6 million acres.

Click on the "Find" link on the "Site Contents" page and then click on "Who Staked Claims" to access an interactive database of mining claims. Search by state or by claim holder. Then, inside each state report, search by county and view maps to see if someone holds a mining claim where you live.

Explore Patents. A patent is a parcel of claimed mineral-rich public land which the federal government sells to the claim holder for $2.50 or $5.00 per acre, as required by the 1872 Mining Law. A patent, or patented claim, is no longer public land; both the land and the minerals contained in it become the property of the patent holder. Congress has imposed a moratorium on new mining patents since October 1, 1994. But the federal government continues to consider applications that were pending as of that date and may grant at least some of the pending patents. There are currently 55 patent applications pending and being processed by the federal government. Since 2000, the government has converted 15,600 acres of public property to private ownership, for a price capped at $5 per acre in 1872.

Click on the "Find" link on the "Site Contents" page and then click on "Who Bought Land" to access an interactive database of mining patents. Search by state, patent owner, patents awarded by decade, patents awarded since 1980, patents awarded since 1990, patents awarded since 2000 and pending patents. Inside each state report, search by county and view maps to see if someone holds a patent where you live.

Explore Plans & Notices. Active mines in the US are on both public lands (primarily land managed by BLM or the Forest Service) and private lands, including patented lands once owned by the public. The government has failed to create or maintain a centralized data source of all mining activity in the US. The most comprehensive source of information available on active mines is contained in the federal government's LR2000 database, which forms the backbone of this site, but which contains mining plans on BLM lands only. Therefore, while this website represents the most complete public accounting available of mining activities in the US, the mine plan data in this site encompasses just a fraction of active mines, reflecting the failure of the government to compile this information, a failure that impedes the public's right to know about mines that could affect their communities or pose risks to local drinking water supplies.

This web site shows claims and patents on all lands in the US currently or previously owned by the public, but shows mining plans and notices on only those public lands managed by BLM. Mining interests also file plans before they mine on Forest Service land, but these filings remain at Forest Service offices and are not entered into the centralized government database (LR2000) that forms the backbone of this website. Mines on patented land or other private property need not file plans with BLM or the Forest Service, so these plans are housed at government offices scattered throughout the west. Mines on these lands must comply with state and local mining regulations.

Plans. Before opening or expanding a mine on BLM land, mining companies submit a plan of operation to the federal government that must be approved before operations begin. A plan must include detailed information including water management plans, spill contingency plans and reclamation plans. BLM will review a plan within 30 days and then, if the plan is complete, will accept public comment for at least another 30 days. Finally, BLM is authorized to approve the plan, approve it with changes, or reject the plan. Although the federal government is required by law to prevent "unnecessary or undue degradation" of public lands, in practice it has only once denied a mining plan based on risks posed to the public, the environment, or cultural resources, and that decision has been rescinded.

Notices. Prior to January 2001, mining interests could file a less stringent notice for operations five acres or less in size on BLM land. Since January 2001, mining interests can file a notice only for exploration causing surface disturbance on five acres or less of BLM land on which reclamation has not been completed. All mining involving extraction now requires a plan regardless of the site's acreage. A notice must contain details such as a description of the activity to occur, a map of the activity's location, and steps the site operator will follow to prevent unecessary and undue degredation. Unless BLM determines otherwise, exploration can begin 15 days after filing a notice with BLM (CFR Mining Claims 2004, Federal Register Notice Rule 2001, U.S. Dept. of Interior Imperial 2001, U.S. Dept. of Interior Imperial Recission 2001).

Click on the "Find" link on the "Site Contents" page and then click on the "Who Plans to Mine" link to access an interactive database of mining plans and notices on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Browse Maps. Click on the "Browse Maps" link to see where mining interests control land within your state. This search could help you determine if an individual or company could open a mine on your property. For other measures to determine if your property is vulnerable to mining, see "Is your property at risk?" in the state report sections.

Find a Company/Individual. Click on the "Find Company" link to search by name of companies or individuals. Find out who holds claims and patents, and who has filed mining plans and notices on BLM land.

Where Can You Mine?

In the U.S., an estimated 216 million acres of federal land are open for mining under the Mining Law of 1872, or about one out of every 11 acres of land in the entire U.S. (Haskins 2004, US Census 2000)


• All Federal Land Not Specifically Withdrawn From Entry Under the Mining Law including National Forests and Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) (type of mining allowed in WSA is at managing agency's discretion)


• Forest Service Recreation Areas

• Scenic Areas


• Most Bureau of Reclamation Lands

• Most Conservation Areas

• Land Otherwise Withdrawn from Public Access Such as Endangered Species Habitat

• Military Reservations

• National Monuments

• National Parks

• Some National Recreation Areas if Administered by the Park Service

• Most National Wildlife Refuges

• Wild and Scenic Rivers Within 1/4 Mile of the Bank on Each Side of River

• Wilderness


• Indian Trust Lands are generally closed to entry under the Mining Law. However, Native Americans may allow mining on Tribal Lands under privately negotiated agreements with individuals or companies. The BLM must approve the leases before mining begins and subsequent operations are monitored by BLM or tribe members provided tribe members have first been trained and certified by BLM. The tribes receive a royalty from mining operations on their land. The royalty is negotiated as part of the lease.


• Mining can occur on lands otherwise closed to entry under the mining law if an individual or business has a claim that predated the closing of mineral entry to the land. For example, if an individual held a claim on land that later became a National Park, the individual would be allowed to mine the land.

Source: Haskins (2004).