All About Lode Gold Mines (Part 1: Law)

I realize that most of you, just like myself, are small-scale placer gold miners. But that doesn't mean you can't diversify a bit, just like the experts tell you to do when it comes to stocks and other investments. As for myself? Well, I've prospected for lode gold in the past and have done some ore sorting and crushing just to see if my hunches were right. But I've never claimed, owned, or developed a lode gold mine. However, with things as they are regarding placer mining from the bureaucratic and private property angles, it wouldn't hurt any of us to learn more about lode or hard-rock mines. Therein lies the heart of the matter for this series of posts.

Lode Gold Mine Law

We might as well dig right in with the laws governing locating and claiming a lode gold mine since anything done outside of those legal parameters is essentially wasted effort if you find something good and want to hang onto it. One important thing to note here is the difference between a lode and a vein since the powers at be consider both the basis of a valid lode claim. Essentially a lode is large or macro-scale deposit of metallic ore that can contain blow outs, veins, and/or stringers (very narrow vein material). A vein, on the other hand, is a micro-scale deposit of metallic ore contained only in vein or stringer material. Vein deposits can be associated with lodes or completely devoid of larger, macro-scale deposits (which happens more frequently than you may think). You can file a lode claim on either of these two variants. So here we go:

1. After the initial discovery of a lode or vein, a mining claim can be located on a given plot of mineralized land. (I'll talk later about location markers, etc.) Obviously, you must be able to prove that your lode discovery contains the metal (or mineral) you say it contains. A typical single lode or vein claim is no more than 1,500 feet long by 300 feet wide, and is centered on the lode or vein discovery. This is United States Federal Law and the width of the claim can be adjusted by a given state (those who signed the 1872 National Mining Act, that is) to just 25 feet in width from the center point of discovery. Additionally, all claim surface lines must be parallel to one another. By the way, the states that signed the 1872 National Mining Act (more commonly know as the 1872 Mining Law) are located mostly out west here in the United States. I'm not going to go into the difference here between patented and unpatented claims since I've explained that difference before In Bedrock Dreams and also because patented claims are a ghost of the past now (unless you buy one that was patented before the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. said "no-no").

(Now that's what I call a gold vein!)

2. The discoverer or locator of the lode claim has exclusive rights to all the material contained within the claim boundaries and throughout the entire depth within those boundaries. This suggests you could dig all the way to China as long as you remain within the lode claim's boundary lines. However, the Tunnel Site Act states you can prospect only 3,000 feet into a lode claim. But you and I both know that prospecting is not the same as mining, right? So I assume once you're mining you can still dig to China if that's your thing. (A semantic loophole, perhaps?) You also have the right to prevent anyone from prospecting or mining within your claim's boundaries. But don't get carried away with this claim thing like some heavy handed placer claim owners do. I could be slightly in error here (probably not), but you can only stop others from mining or prospecting on your claim, not from fishing, bird watching, hiking past, nude sunbathing (happens every summer along the main Northern Motherlode rivers!), scratching their ass, camping nearby, etc., etc. Remember that, and also remember that a lot of claim owners act like they own the real estate their claims are on...WRONG!!

(You don't own the land...just the mineral rights.)

3. Just like you have to do with placer gold claims, lode claim owners must perform their annual assessment or development work each year. The development work requirements in the past were ridiculously lax and their associated fees were low ($100 to $150 USD), but some years back the Feds upped the ante with annual fees. I know because one of the reasons I let my last claim go in 2012 was due to a major increase in annual fees. I also suspect the Feds may have more closely defined what assessment or development work needs doing, but check with the appropriate Federal and/or State agencies if you're unsure about this (because I am). Oh, for those of you who are new (i.e., greenhorns) to small-scale gold mining and placer and lode claims be advised the Feds aren't the only ones you have to pay annually. You'll also have to pay county taxes on your lode claim to the County Clerk or Assessor of the county your claim is located in. Surprise, surprise right? Everybody is gonna want a little piece of your action. It could've been worse though. During the Obama administration (2009) a bill was tended to the House and Senate that, if passed, would have given the Feds as much as 15% in royalties from any NEW mining claim (placer or lode). Thank God saner minds prevailed and one of those, believe it or not, was Harry Reid from Nevada. (But let's get real here..."Dirty" Harry was lining his pockets with gold from major Nevada mining operations too!)

(Now how could you NOT trust a fine gentleman like Senator Harry Reid?)

4. With lode claims, there's a provision in the law that states you can acquire additional five-acre claims in the vicinity to use for mill sites. However, these mill site claims cannot be on mineralized ground. In other words, you can't use gold ground as a mill site and claim it as such. What's a mill site? It's the area where you crush, mill, or process the ore taken from your claim. As an efficiency and cost-effective strategy, lode claim owners (or major mining concerns, for that matter) want their mill sites as close as possible to the mine itself. Like any other enterprise you want to cut operating costs when gold mining...placer or lode. Now most "little" folks like you and I are probably going to crush some rock and run it for gold right close to where we're digging that lode out or following that vein. After all, we're not major corporations or commercial miners, per se. That'd probably be just fine and no one will ever be the wiser. But should the Federal or state or local  inspectors come by to take a look that strategy will have to change unless I miss my bet.

Ain't bureaucracy grand?

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

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  1. This seems to be the way they do things now. They don't ban things like this anymore, they just ad more and more rules and restrictions until it is neither fun or hey, it's legal and they aren't bad guys.........yeah, right.

    1. I guess if you stumble on something really good jumping through the bureaucratic hoops is feasible. But lots of rules and regs for sure.


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