Mining Claims and Other Land Laws

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This man wants to be sure to make smart decisions when he seeks a mining claim.

Q.As I understand it, under the General Mining Law of 1872, I can claim from twenty to one hundred and sixty acres by paying one dollar per acre per year, plus a required one hundred dollars per year expenditure for attempting to extract valuable minerals or metals from the ground. What I have not been able to ascertain is if I can live on the claim three hundred and sixty-five days a year. In other words, can I homestead upon the claim while working it?

Also, if no minerals or precious metals are found upon the claim, may I continue to hold title to the land for an indefinite period of time by meeting the above-mentioned tax and expenditure requirements? I hope this public-lands title is a way I can realize my life-long dream.

— Brian Devanney
Shrub Oak, NY

A. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all lay claim to public lands simply by paying a small fee every year and end up with title to the property? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Earlier in this decade, some foreign interests claimed a portion of our United States soil under the old 1872 mining law. As that was not the intent of the law, a moratorium has been placed on the granting of mining patents.

Before the moratorium, it was possible to actually receive patented ownership to a mining claim on certain public lands. But even then, it was not exactly easy to do. One could claim up to one hundred and sixty acres for a placer mine (dealing with water), or up to twenty acres for a lode mine (ore located in rock). Many requirements had to be met, and the fees involved were just a part of them.

Nowadays, claims can still be staked for mines, but one does not gain ownership of the land. If you are interested in mining public lands, you should contact the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), listed under the Federal Government in the telephone directory. They will send you a packet of information on the requirements and procedures for staking a claim. Extensive research must be done to determine the location of unclaimed land; proof of geological evidence of valuable minerals must be provided. Then you must record documents with the county in which your claim is located and with BLM. You must provide BLM with a mining plan. After it is reviewed, it will be approved or more information will be required. You may not start mining until you receive approval.

In the course of the approval process, you must post a bond for the land reclamation process after the mining is completed for the season, and you will be responsible for doing the reclamation. While mining, you must file certain documents with the county and BLM on or before certain specified dates. You must document a certain amount of work every year to keep your claim open and you must show that you can transport your minerals to market.

You may be allowed to camp on the land with approval. Remember, BLM has a multiple-use concept for any parcel of land, and several activities may take place simultaneously on that land. For example: mining, grazing, plant and animal management, and various recreational activities like hunting and fishing may all be allowed at the same time. It is the responsibility of the miner to keep his area reasonably hazard-free for the other users.

A miner has the right only to the minerals; he may not live on the land without permission. If a cabin is located on a new claim, it belongs to the BLM and may not be used by the miner.

A mining claim may also be staked on certain Forest Service (USFS) land, with much of the same requirements. Other agencies may be involved in the permitting and mining process, such as Department of Ecology, Fish, and Wildlife, etc. Certain rugged individuals still do full or part time mining as a way of life, with greater and lesser degrees of success.

Q.I just bought forty-one aces of tree growth land in northern Maine. The land owner let me finance the property with small payments over twenty years. It is written in the contract that the principal is pre-payable at any time without penalty, but when I mentioned to the sellers that I planned on paying extra now and then on just the principal they suggested I save it all up and pay off the land in one lump sum. They said: “Just think of all the interest you will earn saving the money in the bank” I suspect they fear they will not make as much interest if I chip away at the principal every few months. At thirty-five years old I am still not too good at saving money in the bank. I would much rather pay on the principal a little at a time. I can only afford to pay these small payments now, which is why I agreed to small payments over a long period. But in the future, I will be able to pay more. I sure don’t feel too happy about the thought of paying ten thousand dollars in interest over a twenty year period on a sixty-five hundred dollar piece of raw land that I should be able to pay off in a couple of years at the most.

Can they stop me from paying any amount I want on the principal, any time I want, as long as the regular monthly payments are up to date?

— Gordon Lewis
Thomaston, ME

A. Congratulations on the purchase of your land! You are to be commended for thinking about your future payment ability when you entered into your real estate contract. Read your contract carefully. Unless it contains specific conditions under which you may pay it off with no pre-payment penalty, you certainly may pay additional amounts that apply directly against the principal, over and above your regular payments. These amounts may vary and it should be noted in writing they are to be applied to principal rather than to your regular payment schedule. Whenever you make extra payments to the principal, be sure to keep accurate records and to compute the diminishing principal balance. Good luck in achieving an early pay-off.

Q.I have been considering relocating to another part of the country (Ozarks). Before I start searching for property suitable to my needs, there are certain areas I would like to avoid. I do not want to be downwind nor within a certain radius of nuclear power plants, hazardous waste sites, military installations, large hydroelectric dams, chemical processing plants, etc. Is there any one resource I can use to locate this type of information? Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

— Douglas Nelson
Waynesburg, PA

A. Your question is excellent, as many people have these or other questions about an area before they relocate. One of the easiest things to do is contact the realty agents in your favorite area and specify your criteria for your land search. An agent, especially one who has lived in the area for some time, will be able to select property to show you that will meet your requirements.

You can also write to the chamber of commerce in your selected area and ask for the location of any nearby facilities like those you mentioned. You can relay that information to your realty agent for his or her reference. Good luck in your land search.

Q.Seven years ago, I rented a house on some remote acreage. I love the old house even though it was, and is, in terrible shape. I have had to make extensive repairs to the plumbing, electricity, windows, doors, driveway, etc. The landlord says he rented to me “as is” and will not reimburse me for these costs. Now the roof needs work and he won’t pay for it. I really don’t want to move from here. Every place else is too expensive.

A while back, a friend mentioned something about adverse possession, or something similar. Until the article on adverse possession in your column, I forgot about it. I would have to go many miles away to consult with an attorney; we still retain much of the small town grapevine system here. There are fifty-five acres of hills and rocks and I am getting too old to care for it properly. All I want is what my house sits on, yard and garden. What is your opinion on this mess?

— Name Withheld

A. Chances are great that a rental arrangement for property can never ripen into an adverse possession claim. You will have to consult an attorney for more information on adverse possession relevant to your state.

You should also check with an attorney to determine if your state has landlord/tenant laws that protect you from living in unsafe housing. Under such laws the landlord might be responsible for roof and other repairs that make the dwelling habitable. If there are no such laws in your state, you should consider moving to a safer home. Good luck in finding the information you need.

Send your questions to “Country Real Estate,” c/o MOTHER EARTH NEWS, P. O. BOX 129, Arden, NC 28704 or via e-mail at . Enclose a photo and we’ll make you famous in the bargain. Please keep in mind that state laws vary and that this column is no substitute for local legal advice.

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