Minerals and Land Management

MacDonnell, L. J. ; Gulley, D. A. ; Vogely, William A.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 8
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1985
INTRODUCTION Environmental impacts are most commonly associated with air and water pollution. Not- withstanding this fact, to many people the primary disruption caused by mineral extraction is the change in the character of the locale. That is, the environmental impact of mining includes, but is not limited to, the generation of residuals. The dramatic transformation of wilderness or rural land often creates strong reactions to mineral development. Thus, the basic issues of land use management are a useful addition to environmental discussion. In this section, we take up a discussion of federal, state, and local land use management regimes, along with a brief introduction to the potential role of economic analysis. Elsewhere in this volume, land management issues are discussed from other orientations, and the interested reader may wish to look there as well. Locatable Minerals on Federal Lands Legislation and Administration: Access to hard-rock minerals on the public lands is governed by the General Mining Law of 1872. This law declares that "valuable mineral deposits in land belonging to the United States . . . are hereby declared to be free and open to exploration and purchase . . . ." In order to initiate rights, prospectors are required to physically stake claims of specified sizes and shapes following basic procedures set by federal law which may be supplemented by the individual states. Rights to these claims are protected at the exploration stage so long as actual possession is maintained and diligent exploration activity is underway. If a valuable mineral deposit is discovered on the claim, the claimholder earns the exclusive right of possession as against private parties so long as the claim is properly maintained. To maintain this exclusive right the claimholder must per- form $100 worth of labor or improvements, known as assessment work, on each claim every year and make related annual filings with the U. S. Department of the Interior. If the existence of a valuable mineral deposit can be demonstrated, and other legal requirements are met, the claimholder may receive a patent giving full title to the claimed land, including the surface in most cases. The purchase price is either $2.50 or $5 .OO per acre. The Mining Law has remained largely un- changed by legislative amendment during its now more than 100-vear existence. However, while the law itself has not changed, its interpretation and administration have changed considerably. Written at a time of rapid western expansion of the U.S. following the Civil War, the intent of the law was to promote mineral development by inviting unrestricted prospecting and by selling the lands containing mineral deposits at a minimal charge. As federal land policy shifted from one of rapid disposal into private ownership to one of retention and management for a number of uses, mineral patenting requirements have been administered more strictly. The most critical issue concerns what must be demonstrated to establish the existence of a valuable mineral deposit. The so-called "prudent man" standard was established in the case of Castle v. Womble (19 L.D. 455 (1894)):
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