The federal claim staking requirements and those the State of Alaska differ quite substantially. You should be versed in both when you go out prospecting, because you just don’t know where you will find gold in Alaska. The paperwork of claim staking should never detract from your Alaska prospecting adventure. It is just something you should be knowledgeable about for when you stumble across that new strike. Many people will form a LLC or similar corporation to reduce the liability from staking around old mining operations.
In Alaska more than 75% of the US Government land in Alaska is closed to mining because it is located in National Parks, National Preserves, National Monuments, Federal Wildlife Refuges, or other areas sensitive withdrawn from exploration. The rest of the lands open to mineral staking mining claims potentially valuable areas are often already claimed. So, the first thing in staking a mining claim is good research into the land status to determine whether the land is available for mineral entry and whether it is already claimed.
MINING LAW OF 1872
The primary federal law governing locatable minerals is the Mining Law of 1872 (May 10, 1872), that declared all valuable mineral deposits on lands belonging to the US Federal government to be free and open to mineral exploration and purchase. This law gives citizens of the United States the chance to explore for, discover, and purchase certain valuable mineral deposits on public domain minerals.
FEDERAL LAND POLICY AND MANAGEMENT ACT OF 1976 (FLPMA)
This Act did not amend the 1872 law, but did affect the recordation and maintenance of claims. Persons holding existing claims were required to record their claims with BLM by October 1979, and all new claims were required to be recorded with BLM. Its purpose was to provide BLM with information on the locations and number of un patented mining claims, mill sites, and tunnel sites; to determine the names and addresses of current owners, and remove the cloud of title on abandoned claims.
WHAT IS A MINING CLAIM
A mining claim is a parcel of land for which the claimant has asserted a right of possession and the right to develop and extract a discovered, valuable, mineral deposit. This right does not include exclusive surface rights ).
There are three basic types of minerals on federally-administered lands: locatable, leasable, and salable. Mining claims are staked on locatable minerals on public domain lands.
Locatable minerals include both metallic minerals (gold, silver, lead, etc.) and nonmetallic minerals (fluorspar, asbestos, mica, etc.). It is nearly impossible to list all locatable minerals because of the complex legal requirements for discovery.
TYPES OF CLAIMS
There are two types of mining claims – lode and placer:
Lode Claims – Deposits subject to lode claims include classic veins or lodes having well-defined boundaries. They also include other rock in- place bearing valuable minerals and may be broad zones of mineralized rock. Examples include quartz or other veins bearing gold or other metallic minerals and large volume, but low-grade disseminated gold deposits. Descriptions are by metes and bounds surveys beginning at the discovery point on the claim and including a reference to natural objects or permanent monuments. Federal statute limits their size to a maximum of 1500 feet in length, and a maximum width of 600 feet (300 feet on either side of the vein).
Placer Claims – Placer claims are defined as “…including all forms of deposit, excepting veins of quartz, or other rock in-place.” In other words every deposit, not located with a lode claim, should be appropriated by a placer location. Placer claims, where practicable, are located by legal subdivision (aliquot part and complete lots). The maximum size is 20 acres per locator, and the maximum for an association placer is 160 acres for 8 or more locators. The maximum size in Alaska is 40 acres. The maximum size for a corporation is 20 acres per claim. Corporations may not locate association placers unless they are in association with other locators or corporations as co-locators.
There are two other types of mineral entries – mill sites and tunnel sites:
Mill Sites – A mill site must be located on “nonmineral lands” and must be noncontiguous to the lode or placer with which it is associated. Its purpose is to support a lode or placer mining operation. A mill site must include the erection of a mill or reduction works and/or may include other uses in support of a mining operation. Descriptions are by metes and bounds if on unsurveyed land and by legal subdivision if on surveyed lands. The maximum size is 5 acres.
Tunnel Sites – A tunnel site is a subsurface right-of-way under Federal land open to mineral entry. It is used for access to lode mining claims or to explore for blind or undiscovered veins, lodes, or ledges not currently claimed or known to exist on the surface. A tunnel site can be up to 3,000 feet in length.
Provisions of the Mining Law allow for the development of local rules that are consistent with federal law. Therefore, individual states can have their own manner of locating and recording mining claims, tunnels sites, and mill sites. Always check with the appropriate state for state specific laws and regulations.
STAKING A CLAIM
Federal law specifies that claim boundaries must be distinctly and clearly marked to be readily identifiable. Most states have statutes and regulations concerning the actual staking and recording of mining claims so claimants should refer to the appropriate state agency for additional requirements before locating a claim.
Prior to locating a claim, a prospector should check BLM records for prior recorded claims. Ultimately, the prospector must check for prior existing claim markings on the ground.
Departmental decisions require a discovery on each claim, based on actual physical exposure of the valuable mineral within the claim boundaries. (Also, each 10 acres on a placer claim, after a discovery, must be mineral in character).
WHO CAN STAKE A CLAIM
United States citizens who have reached the age of discretion, under the law of the state of residence; or legal immigrants who have declared their intention to become a citizen; or a corporation organized under the laws of any state may locate a mining claim. The government considers a corporation the same as a U.S. citizen.
An agent may locate a mining claim on behalf of a claimant.
A claimant may hold any number of claims or sites.
WHERE CAN A CLAIM BE LOCATED?
There are federally-administered lands in 19 states where mining claims can be located.
Only public domain minerals are locatable minerals (those minerals that have never left federal ownership). Reconveyed minerals are considered public domain minerals under the mining laws. Mining claims cannot be staked on acquired minerals; a prospecting permit (43 CFR 3500) is required to prospect for acquired minerals. Mining claims can be located on open public lands administered by another federal agency (most commonly on Forest Service lands).
Claims and sites can be located on lands that have not been previously claimed or closed to mineral entry under some special act, regulation, or public land order. A withdrawal does not automatically close lands to mineral entry. Withdrawn areas that are closed from mineral entry and location include: National Parks, National Monuments, Indian reservations, most reclamation projects, military reservations, scientific testing areas, and most wildlife protection areas (such as Federal Wildlife Refuges). .
Mining claims can be located on those minerals reserved under the Stock Raising Homestead Act of 1916 (SRHA). The surface is fee, but the minerals are public domain. There are specific regulations governing the claiming of SRHA minerals – refer to the SRHA section of this guide.
RECORDING A MINING CLAIM
Claims and sites must be recorded with both the state and the proper BLM state office (state laws usually require filing the original location notice or certificate in the proper county office).
The Certificate of Location (COL) or notice must be filed with BLM within 90 calendar days after the date of location. Check with the proper county for their filing requirements.
A location map is required by BLM to accurately determine location and land status of the claim.
BLM requires a copy of the official record of the notice or COL of each claim that was or will be filed under state law. (BLM does not require the original document, nor does the document have to be notarized.)
BLM does not require the claim information to be on any specific form, nor does BLM produce/distribute a form for such purpose. Local printing companies or stationery stores are typical sources of forms. The form submitted to BLM should include the date of location, the name and address of the owner(s), the name of the claim/site, the type of claim/site, the acreage claimed, and a description of the parcel on the ground (township, range, section, quarter section, and/or a metes and bounds description).
Recordation fees for new claims:
* $15 Service Charge (filing fee)
* $30 Location Fee
* $125 Maintenance Fee
* Total due per claim $170
All monies are due at the time of filing. (A claim will not be accepted unless the payment of the maintenance and locations fees is submitted; the service charge portion is a curable defect.)
The initial $125 maintenance fee is due for the assessment year in which the claim is located (not recorded). This fee is not prorated.
Upon meeting the filing requirements, each claim is assigned a serial number. After adjudication of the filing has been completed, the claimant will receive a recordation receipt itemizing the claim and assigned serial number. If a claimant requests a copy of the recorded COLs, cost recovery fees apply.
MAINTAINING A MINING CLAIM
Maintenance requirements are based on the assessment year which begins September 1, at noon, and ends the following September 1, at noon.
Failure to meet any of the annual requirements will result in the claim(s) or site(s) being deemed to be forfeited.
An annual $125 maintenance fee per claim is required to be filed or postmarked (if mailed) on or before September 1 of the year preceding an assessment year. (For example, for the 2001 assessment year which begins September 1, 2000, the maintenance fees must be paid by September 1, 2000.)
A maintenance fee is required when a new claim is recorded (this is part of the $170 recording fee). If a claimant qualifies, he/she may file for a fee payment waiver form and perform assessment work in subsequent years.
MAINTENANCE FEE PAYMENT WAIVER CERTIFICATION
(aka SMALL MINERS EXEMPTION)
If a claimant owns 10 or fewer active claims/sites on federal lands in the United States, he may qualify for a maintenance fee payment waiver. Waivers must be filed or postmarked (if mailed) on or before September 1 for the subsequent assessment year. There is no fee to file a waiver. A waiver must be filed prior to each year a waiver of the fees is desired.
If a claimant owns claims in more than one state, he/she must file a waiver form in each appropriate state office.
Filing a waiver form, the claimant is stating that assessment work has been or will be done, and that the proper affidavits of labor will be timely filed.
ANNUAL ASSESSMENT WORK
Claimants who perform assessment work must spend a minimum of $100 in labor or improvements on each claim, and record evidence of such with the BLM by December 30 of the calendar year in which the ssessment year ended. FLPMA required the same document be filed with BLM which has been or will be recorded with the appropriate county office. The charge for recording an affidavit of annual labor or representation with BLM is $5 per claim.
The assessment work must be performed within the period defined as the assessment year (i.e., the assessment year begins at noon on September 1 and ends at noon on September 1 of each year).
Assessment work is not a requirement for owners of mill or tunnel sites; however, they must file a notice of intent (NOI) to hold the site. BLM requires a $5 service charge per site for filing a notice of intent to hold.
Assessment work includes, but is not limited to, drilling, excavations, driving shafts and tunnels, sampling (geochemical or bulk), road construction on or for the benefit of the mining claim; and geological, geochemical, and geophysical surveys.
PATENTING A MINING CLAIM
Note: The Interior and Related Agencies Appropriation Act of 1994 included a moratorium on the acceptance of new mineral patent applications. The moratorium was in effect October 1, 1994, through September 30, 1995. It has been extended by subsequent Interior Appropriations Acts. Therefore, all mineral patent applications received after October 1, 1994, until the moratorium expires, are to be returned to the applicant without further action.
A patented claim is one for which the Federal Government has passed title to the claimant, making it private land. A person may mine and remove minerals from a mining claim without a patent; however, a mineral patent gives the owner title to the minerals, surface and other resources (timber, vegetative).
Requirements for filing mineral patent applications may be found in 43 CFR 3860. Mineral patents can be issued for lode claims, placer claims, or mill sites, but not tunnel sites.
Patenting requires the claimant to demonstrate the existence of a valuable mineral deposit. In addition the applicant needs to (1) Survey, if required, subsequent to location; (1a) Survey application requires initial fee of $750 plus $300 for each additional claim; (1b) Approved survey plat and notice of intent to patent posted on claim; (2) File patent application in BLM State Office accompanied by fees – $250 service charge (1 claim) and $50 for each additional claim; (3) Provide evidence of title and citizenship; (4) Provide statement of expenditures and improvements; (5) Have BLM approval notice published in newspaper; (6) Provide proofs of posting and publications, and corroborated statements.
Under current law, if all requirements have been satisfied, the applicant can purchase a lode claim at $5 per acre and placer claims for $2.50 an acre. Associated mill sites can be purchased at the same price per acre as the type of claim they are supporting.
TRANSFERS OF OWNERSHIP
Interest in a properly recorded mining claim or site may be transferred in part or its entirety. A quitclaim deed or recordable conveyance document is needed. Transfer documents should be filed within 60 days after the transfer. There is a charge of $5 per claim, per transfer document.
An amendment (1) may or may not take in different or additional unappropriated ground; (2) may correct or clarify defects or omissions in the original notice or Certificate of Location; (3) may change the legal land description; (4) may change the claim name; and (4) may change the position of discovery or boundary monuments (under Montana State law, the point of discovery cannot be moved). Amendments cannot be used to transfer ownership of a mining claim. There is a charge of $5 per claim to record an amended location notice.
A relocation is treated as a new original location which essentially covers the same land as a prior mining claim/site. As such, a relocation will be issued a new serial number and date stamp. Filing fees of $170 per claim is required.
A relocation does not relate back to the date of the prior location and is adverse to the prior location.
A relocation may not be established by the use of an “amended location notice,” but requires a new, original notice or certificate as prescribed by state law.
STOCK RAISING HOMESTEAD ACT (SRHA)
There are specific procedures for locatable mineral exploration and development on split estate lands, where the surface was patented under the Homestead Act entries, the SRHA of 1916, and the mineral estate remains reserved to the Federal Government.
Public Law 103-23, an amendment to the SRHA, requires anyone wishing to explore lands subject to the SRHA for the purpose of staking a mining claim to first file a Notice of Intent to Locate a Mining Claim (NOITL) with the appropriate BLM state office. BLM carries a form for filing a NOITL on SRHA lands, however, a specific form is not required. A nonrefundable filing fee of $25 must accompany the NOITL.
Claimants who own the surface estate and wish to explore for and locate a mining claim are not required to follow the SRHA NOITL procedures. However, if claimants locate a claim on their land, they are required to provide proof of ownership (i.e., tax records).
The claimant must also serve a copy of the NOITL to the surface owner by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. A separate NOITL must be served to each surface owner affected. The claimant must wait 30 days from the date of service before entering the lands to locate any mining claim.
After BLM has determined that the NOITL is acceptable to be posted, the land is segregated for 90 days. No person, including the surface owner, may (1) file an NOITL, or (2) explore for and locate minerals, or (3) file an application to acquire mineral interest on any portion of the subject land.
NOITL’s are assigned a serial number and noted on the Master Title Plat.
A person (or affiliates of such person) may not file NOITL’s for more than 1,280 acres of land nationwide owned by a single surface owner, nor file NOITL’s for more than 6,400 acres of land in any one state.
The location, recording, and maintenance of mining claims on SRHA lands are the same as for other open public domain lands.
SURFACE MANAGEMENT (43 CFR 3809)
BLM regulates surface management on mining activity conducted on lands administered by BLM. Other federal agencies such as U.S. Forest Service, have different regulations regarding surface management; if a claim is located within another agency’s administrative jurisdiction, the claimant needs to check with that agency for proper procedures.
All mining activities require reasonable reclamation. The lowest level of mining activity, “casual use,” is designed for the miner or weekend prospector who creates only negligible surface disturbance (for example, activities that do not involve the use of earth-moving equipment or explosives may be considered casual use). Dredging at any level of use may require a permit from the appropriate state agency administering water quality. (In Montana it’s the Environmental Management Bureau, Department of Environmental Quality; in South Dakota it’s the Department of Environmental & Natural Resources.)
The second level of activity, where surface disturbance is 5 acres or less per year, requires a notice advising BLM of the anticipated work 15 days prior to commencement. This notice needs to be filed with the appropriate field office. No approval is needed although bonding is required. State agencies need to be notified to assure that their requirements are met.
For operations involving more than 5 acres, a detailed plan of operation must be filed with the appropriate BLM field office. Bonding is required to ensure proper reclamation. State agencies in Montana and South Dakota have similar requirements and need to be notified.
DETERMINATION OF SURFACE RIGHTS UNDER PUBLIC LAW 84-167 (1955)
Prior to 1955, claimants had certain surface rights associated with their mining claim. Public Law 84-167 required BLM to publish each township in each state where the United States wished to acquire complete surface management rights. Most townships were published between 1955 and 1968. The Master Title Plat for a particular township (and the Historical Index) will show if the township was published, give the date of publication, and list the claims (by claim name) that responded or were adjudicated surface rights under this Act. To maintain these surface rights under this determination, the chain of title cannot be broken. There are very few of these claims in Montana.
USE AND OCCUPANCY
Use and occupancy inquiries should be directed to the appropriate field office.
Staking or operating a mining claim does not give the claimant exclusive rights to the surface resources (unless a right was determined under Public Law 84-167), the right to establish residency, or block access to other users.
Regulations managing the use and occupancy of the public lands for development of locatable mineral deposits by limiting such use or occupancy to that which is reasonably incident are found in 43 CFR 3715. These regulations apply to public lands administered by BLM. They do not apply to state or private lands where minerals have been reserved, nor do they apply to federal lands administered by other agencies (such as the Forest Service).
BLM will prevent abuse of public lands, while recognizing valid rights and uses under the mining laws. BLM will take appropriate action to eliminate invalid uses, including unauthorized residential occupancy. Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) has found that a claim may be declared void by BLM when it has been located and held for purposes other than the mining of minerals.
Issuance of a notice of trespass may occur if an un patented claim/site is:
(1) used for a homesite, place of business, or for other purposes not reasonably related to mining or milling activities;
(2) used for the mining and sale of leasable minerals or mineral materials, such as sand, gravel and certain types of building stone; or
(3) located on lands that for any reason have been withdrawn from location after the effective date of the withdrawal.
First you must determine the general area(s) in which you are interested. Information is available from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maps or other sources to help you find potentially valuable areas;
The next step is to identify the legal description of the land. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land records in Alaska are based on the rectangular system of survey and kept on microfilm catalogued by Meridian, Township, Range, and Section. There are five meridians and approximately 18,600 townships in Alaska. The legal description (Meridian, Township, Range, and Section) may be obtained from the pertinent topographical map available for view in the BLM’s Anchorage or Fairbanks Public Information Centers. Alternatively, the maps may be purchased from a U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) Center
Once you have determined the specific location and land description, the BLM can then help you determine if the land is open for mining. Unfortunately, there are no definitive maps (other than the Master Title Plats [MTP’s] for each individual township) that provide accurate depictions of land status suitable for use in staking mining claims. The MTP’s are available for view in the BLM Public Information Center (note that mining claims are not shown on the MTP’s but are listed in the BLM’s computerized Land Information System);
Finally, after determining the location and land status and before prospecting on the ground, we highly recommend that you do a search of the Mining Claim Information System for any mining claims already staked in the immediate area. If there are other claims in the area, we suggest that you come into the BLM Public Room and identify the claims using the Alaska Land Information System. After identifying the claims, you can review the location notices in the pertinent case files to verify the location and avoid “claim jumping.”
Once everything checks out, you are ready to go out and physically stake your corner posts for your new mining claim. It is a good idea to bring your GPS with you to record your claim corners. GPS coordinates will give you an exact ground location and will help prevent someone else from over staking your claims. Once your stakes are in the ground, you have 90 days to file with both the recorders office and with the Bureau of Land Management (federal claims only).
State of Alaska Mining Claims and Prospecting Sites
The claim staker must first have a discovery. The maximum claim size is 40 acres (1320 x 1320 ft), and the claim boundaries must be oriented with the cardinal directions when possible, and must meet criteria for the MTRSC system (meridian, township, range, section, corner system). A state mining claim covers both the subsurface lode and placer rights. It is important that having a claim does not imply surface ownership, only the rights extract subsurface minerals.
Each claim must have corner posts at each of the four corners. By regulation the posts must be at least 3 inches in diameter and at least 3 feet off the ground. The corner posts must be clearly labeled as to the claim name and which corner of the claim it represents. A “claim notice” must be placed on the northeast corner post. The claim notice forms are available from the Division of Mining, and will contain information such as 1) claim name, 2) name & address of locator or locators, 3) date of discovery, 4) date of posting, 5) description of dimensions, 6) location information using the MTRSC system, and 7) signature.
The maximum size for a “prospecting site” is 2640 x 2640 ft, and the same rules apply to its location description and corner posts. The other key difference is that a prospecting site does not require a “discovery”. Prospecting sites can be held for up to two years before they must be converted into a mining claim(s). The staker of the prospecting site has the exclusive right to stake mining claims there.
After staking a claim or prospecting site, the deadline for filing the claim form with the State of Alaska district recorder is 45 days. Filing and payment of the first year of rent to the Division of Mining must also be made. Each year the rental payment must be made between September 1 and November 30. Each year assessment work must be performed on the claims, in the amount of $100 per claim, by August 31. An “affidavit of assessment “ describing the work must be filed with the district recorder annually by November 30. Acceptable types of assessment work include all types of geological surveys (by qualified individuals), excavations, bulk sampling and drilling. Permits are required for any type of excavation, road building or drilling activity.
About 92 percent of the 91 million acres that the state has received title to so far is open to mineral entry and the acquiring of mineral rights by staking mining locations. Upon discovery, mining rights on these state-owned lands are acquired by locating or staking a mining location in a similar way to staking a mining claim on federal lands. Like federal mining law, Alaska mining laws provide for nonexclusive access to State-owned lands for prospecting, an exclusive right to develop a discovery, and security of tenure. A mining location may be staked for any locatable mineral (all metallic and most nonmetallic industrial minerals) under Alaska mining law.
Under Alaska mining laws (AS 38.05.185-275) and regulations (11 AAC 86.100-600) Alaska DNR Mining Claim Info), there are three general kinds of mining locations: mining claims, leasehold location and prospecting sites.
Mining claims may be located by what is know as aliquot part legal description, which is meridian, township, range, section, quarter section, and if applicable quarter-quarter section. These claims are known as MTRSC locations, and they are generally located using GPS latitude and longitude coordinates. A quarter section location is typically about 160 acres in size, and a quarter-quarter section location is typically 40 acres in size. Rent for the larger size is always four times greater.
Upon processing a new location, the state may classify the location as a leasehold location (explained below). Prior to discovery, a locator may also locate a prospecting site which grants exclusive prospecting rights for a term of two years, and exclusive right to convert to a claim upon discovery (explained below). You may download a prospecting site certificate here. A discovery is required in order to stake a valid mining claim or leasehold location. A discovery means that locatable minerals have been found and the evidence is of such a character that an ordinarily prudent person would be justified in expending further time, labor and money upon the property with a reasonable expectation of developing a paying mine. The primary difference between a mining claim and a leasehold location is that a mining claim gives an owner an immediate property right to mine a mineral deposit whereas a leasehold location must be converted into an upland mining lease before mining operations can begin. State lands are designated for leasehold location only if there may be other valuable resources present or if the surface has already been leased or sold for other uses. Converting a leasehold location to a lease is done to mitigate other resource use conflicts that may exist, and to provide for exclusive mineral title from other competing mineral locators. A mining lease will likely contain stipulations to reduce or resolve potential conflicts between mining and competing resource uses. The fee to apply for a lease is $250, and processing takes about three months. Further information about converting a claim or claims to an upland mining lease is available from the fact sheet.