What is an unpatented mining claim?

What is a patented mining claim?

Can an unpatented mining claim be patented?

What types of claims and sites are there?

What are the laws governing mining claims?

What needs to be done to maintain a claim?

What is a small miner’s waver?

What qualifies as assessment work?

Do I need to file with the county?

Do I pay taxes on my claim?

Are permits necessary?

Do I need a dredge permit?

What if a locked gate blocks access to my claim?

Can I camp on my claim?

Can I build on my claim?

What are the mining law resources?


An unpatented mining claim conveys ownership to the minerals and gives the owner the right to extract and develop the mineral deposits. The federal government maintains ownership of the land itself.


The original 1872 mining law offered miners the ability to apply for patents for their mining claims. Once patented, the title for the land was passed to the claimant which conveyed both the land and the minerals to the owner.



In 1995, the US Congress enacted a moratorium on the issuance of patents for mining claims. This may change in the future.


Lode - A classic vein, ledge, or other rock in place between definite walls.  A lode claim is located by metes and bounds.  The maximum length is 1,500 feet by 600 feet. (43 CFR 3841)


Placer - All deposits, other than lodes.  These include placer deposits of sand and gravel containing free gold and other minerals.  Placer claims are located by legal subdivision.  Sizes range from 20 - 160 acres depending on association of locators. A corporation is considered a single locator. When an association claim is sold, the entire portion up to 160 acres may be held by a single individual or entity. (43 CFR 3842)


Tunnel Site - A tunnel site is where a tunnel is run to develop a vein or lode.  It may also be used for the discovery of unknown veins or lodes.  To stake a tunnel site, two stakes are placed up to 3,000 feet apart on the line of the proposed tunnel.  Recordation is the same as a lode claim.  A Tunnel Site can be regarded more as a right-a-way, than a mining claim. (43 CFR 3843)


Mill Site - Public lands which are non-mineral in character.  Mill Sites may be located in connection with a placer or lode claim for mining and milling purposes or as an independent/custom mill site that is independent of a mining claim.  Mill Sites are located by metes and bounds or legal subdivision and are up to 5 acres in size. (43 CFR 3844)


In 1872, congress passed the General Mining Law which stated that all un-appropriated lands were open to mineral entry and purchase. In addition to these laws, claim holders must be aware of state and local laws pertaining to mining activity as well as the regulations imposed by the surface management agency (BLM, USFS, etc).


Once a claim/site is serialized, an annual filing must be made on or before
September 1, of each year to maintain the claim/site. If you have more than
10 claims, you must pay the $155 maintenance fee for each 20 acres. If you have 10 or fewer claims/sites, you may choose to file either the maintenance fee payment or
file the Maintenance Fee Waiver certification (small miner’s waiver). If
you choose to file a small miner’s waiver, then you must also perform $100
worth of labor or improvements on all claims during the assessment year (September 1, noon through September 1, noon). An Assessment Work Notice (Proof of Labor) form must be filed on or before December 30, along with the $10 filing fee per claim. For mill/tunnel sites, a Notice of Intent to Hold must be filed on or before December 30, along with the $10 filing fee per site.
(43 CFR 3833.1-5 and 43 CFR 3833.1-6)


A small miner’s waiver is short for maintenance fee payment waiver
certification. A small miners waiver may be filed by those claimants holding
10 or fewer claims/sites, instead of paying the $155 maintenance fee by
September 1, of each year. If you choose to file a small miner’s wavier you
must also perform assessment work and file an assessment work notice by
December 30, of each year.
(43 CFR 3833.1-6)


Some of the activities that qualify for assessment work are construction and
maintenance of trails, access roads, development drilling and sampling, and
buildings that benefit the claim. For more information about what qualifies as
assessment work please contact your local BLM office.


In addition to filing with the BLM, an Affidavit of Assessment Work (Proof of Labor form) or Notice of Intent to Hold should be filed with the county recorder's office. The location of this office will always be in the County Seat of the county in which your claims are situated. If you pay the maintenance fee rather than filing a small miner’s waver, the proof of labor form filed with the county should indicate the fees and the date paid.


Annual taxes may be due but vary county by county. Some counties have stopped collecting taxes on mining claims due to their insignificance as a county revenue source. The county should automatically send you a tax bill for the claim if one is due, and it will be based on the owner of record as of January 1. In counties that collect taxes, typically they amount to 1% of the assessed value of the claim. Contact the county tax assessor’s office for details.

Recreational mining, such as gold panning and mineral collecting that make
use of hand-held equipment such as picks, shovels, gold pans, sluice
boxes, or metal detectors are usually exempt from permit requirements. For larger scale mechanized operations, t
he USFS and BLM may require a NOI (Notice of Intent) and/or a PoO (Plan of Operation). See section 228.4 in the Federal Register and contact the surface management agency for details.

Depending on your state, you may need a permit for dredging. Check with your local state Fish and Game office for details. In California, there is currently a ban on dredging pending the environmental review process. Once this process has been completed, suction dredging should return. See the following link for details on suction dredging: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/specialpermits/suctiondredge/

The owner of an unpatented mining claim cannot be denied access to his property by federal law. Generally, if a locked gate is preventing you from accessing your claim, the Forest Service (or appropriate agency) must provide you with a key.


Yes, as owner of an unpatented mining claim you are allowed to camp on your claim pursuant to the rules of the surface management agency.


You are allowed to build on a claim with restrictions if the structures are in direct support of mining activities. Contact the surface management agency for details.



Mining Law of 1872

Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) - See Section 314

Code of Federal Regulations, 43 CFR 3800

Interior Board of Land Appeals Decisions

Disclaimer: This guide has been furnished to help provide background and general information to readers. It is recommended that information be acquired from official sources such as BLM, USFS, counties, or the applicable agency. Mineralstar Mining makes every effort to provide accurate information, but provides no warranty, expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of furnished information.



Under the General Mining Law of 1872 (May 10, 1872), as amended (30 USC 21-54), citizens of the United States or those intending to become citizens are provided the opportunity to explore for, discover, and purchase certain valuable mineral deposits on public domain lands in the United States. The law also sets general standards and guidelines for “claiming” the mineral rights to minerals so “discovered”. Provisions are included to allow for local rules to be developed, consistent with Federal laws. In California, the state has established their rules under California Public Resources Code (Ch 1, Div 3.5, Sec 3900-3924).


This frequently asked questions is designed to give an overview on the major issues pertaining to mining claims. The use of the information found in this section is subject to our Terms of Use and the following disclaimer.

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