All About Lode Gold Mines (Part 3: Minerals)

In this post we'll be looking at the various aspects of minerals in terms of what you can locate (i.e., file a claim on), what you can lease, and what is considered a "salable" mineral. That should provide plenty of material for your mental grist mill and give you a good idea of what's what in this regard.

Locatable Minerals

OK, let's get started here. The legal definition for locatable minerals is as follows:

Locatable minerals are those recognized as valuable by standard authorities whether they are metallic or another substance and when found on public lands open to mineral entry in quality and quantity sufficient to render a claim as valuable due to its mineral content.

I think the keys to understanding this definition are the phrases "standard authorities" and "quality and quantity sufficient to render a claim." I suspect standard authorities are acknowledged authorities on the subject such as geologists, mining engineers, miners, and any other entity recognized as a mining expert. However, exactly how the bureaucrats see this may differ from my interpretation. But it seems pretty straightforward. The "quality and quantity" thing is less clear but it's pretty obvious what quantity means. A lode prospect which, in all likelihood, is only likely to produce a few troy ounces of gold (or any other valuable metal or mineral) is not likely to make the grade from the location/claim standpoint. Now what's quality mean? I'm really not sure here but it could be something as simple as the difference between low-grade ore and ore that's considered high grade. And once again, how much of either type is thought to exist at the location. In terms of what's considered a valuable mineral, the Mining Law of 1872 specifically mentions any rock in place that contains gold, silver, cinnabar (mercury ore), lead, tin, and copper. What's considered valuable (and locatable) from the bureaucratic standpoint rests in the not-always-capable hands of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Federal or sometimes state courts, and Congress. But non-metallic minerals like borax, feldspar, gypsum, gem minerals, and fluorspar are included under this non-metallic umbrella.

 (Lode gold mines come in all shapes and sizes.)

Leasable Minerals

The first significant change to the 1872 Mining Law occurred in 1920 when the Mineral Leasing Act was passed. Can you smell what's coming? Yep. Oil, natural gas, and oil shale were removed from being locatable and placed under what became known as the "Leasing Law." Other non-metallic minerals placed under this law included salt, potassium, phosphate, native asphalt, bitumen, bituminous rock (coal, that is), or any type of oil-impregnated rock or sand. So in essence what the Leasing Law did was, at the very least, make it extremely difficult for small-scale prospectors or miners to hit 'er big by getting a lease. At its worst, the Leasing Law favored the large companies and corporations and essentially made sure the little boys and girls would play hell getting an oil lease, for example. You see, in order to hold a lease, the small-scale guy or gal would have to A) deal with  much greater swaths of land, B) pay an annual rental fee in advance for leasing those lands, C) pay annual royalties to the Feds on anything removed from those leased lands, and D) comply with "any other provisions written into the lease." By the way, those types of provisions favored the big boys, not us peons. In other words, small-scale miners and prospectors were given the bum's rush. Commercial operators and corporations have the kind of manpower, equipment, and money to make a lease viable from an economic standpoint. Small-scale folks like you and I simply can't compete with the big boys on that level. And guess what? That's why the damn law was written and passed in the first place! By 1920 the automobile, mechanized farm equipment, and factory mass production were writing the future and oil and lubricants were going to make some people stinking rich. So political palms got greased (pun intended) and voila! The Mineral Leasing Act was instituted. So forget BLM leases and stick to gold. At least by locating and filing a claim with the yellow metal you still have a fighting chance no matter how much the odds are stacked against you. Otherwise you'll get squashed like a bug.

 (Forget about becoming an oil tycoon...they've stacked the odds against you.)

Salable Minerals

The 1872 Mining Law was altered again by the Materials Act of 1947, which removed common sand, stone, gravel, pumice, cinders, certain clays, and...last but not least...petrified wood (really?) from both locating and leasing on public lands. These items are what the Feds call "salable" minerals and you can't file a claim or get a lease on them. You have to buy the right to mine them from the appropriate agency (BLM, Interior Dept., etc.). Sales are held by the agency in charge of administering those lands and are based on competitive bidding. Any salable mineral lands worked have to be reclaimed after mining operations based on state and Federal regulations and guidelines. Now here's a kicker you should get a grip on. If you do have an unpatented lode gold claim and remove any salable minerals from your claim (as defined above), you're open to Federal and/or state prosecution and may be liable for damages and fines. So let me get that straight. If your mining efforts mean you have to remove sand, rock, stone, or clay to get at the gold that makes you liable??? I don't know about you, but that doesn't make a lick of sense to me. However, I suspect the bureaucrats mean if you're targeting those salable minerals for removal (and sale?), and not removing them as an adjunct to your gold mining efforts. But in truth...who the hell knows?

(Yep...gonna get me a petrified wood mine!)

That's it for this round.

(c) Jim Rocha 2018

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. I have to admit, I had a hard time reading this series of posts......
    Why did we, or our ancestors ever allow the BLM/Forest service to become what they are? They were once servants employed by the people to manage the land for the people. Now they have become tyrants that want to exclude the people from the land, do no management of the land, and collect a healthy paycheck as well as retirement.......and for doing what?
    Even worse, we allow it and beg permission to do the things we should never have to ask for.
    No sir, it makes me mad. If it ain't right, it's wrong, plain and simple.

    1. I hear ya Gary. The freedom the old timers enjoyed is long gone, only to be replaced by restrictions and bureaucratic BS.


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