All About Lode Gold Mines (Part 4: Annual Assessment Work)
We're back in the saddle with everything you ever wanted to know about lode gold mines. In this post I'll be talking about annual assessment work, something that both placer and lode claim owners aren't always clear on for any number of reasons. So allow me to clarify things a bit in this regard.
Labor or Work
The annual labor improvement requirements for unpatented claims was written into the 1872 Mining Law. This requirement is also known as assessment work or assessment labor. The idea behind it was to ensure a miner's "good faith and diligence" in holding a claim and that he or she was actually working it and not just holding onto it to prevent others from filing on it. The original language of the assessment clause was updated in 1958 to read:
The term labor shall include, without being limited to, geological, geochemical, and geophysical surveys conducted by qualified experts and verified by a detailed report filed in the county office in which the claim is is located and which sets forth fully: a) the location of the work performed in relation to the point of discovery and boundaries of the claim; b) the nature, extent, and cost thereof; c) the basic findings thereof; and d) the name, address, and professional background of the person or persons conducting the work. Such surveys, however, may NOT be applied as labor for more than two consecutive years or for a total of five years on any one mining claim, and each survey shall be non-repetitive of any previous survey on the claim.
(Just do something!)
OK, this is all fine and well from a bureaucratic or "legalese" standpoint but it really doesn't answer the question of what constitutes assessment work other than surveys that can only be used for a couple of years anyway. What is clear though is that the way the 1872 Law was written a claim owner only had to do $100.00 (USD) worth of assessment work annually. By the 1980s when I was at my small-scale mining peak and dealing with various claims here and there, the annual assessment work was supposed to be around $150.00 per claim. Whatever the dollar amount is today (the same or inflated), what remains unclear is an exact definition of assessment work requirements other than surveys. However, work such as tunneling, excavating, digging pits or trenches, and/or drilling DO qualify as acceptable assessment work. Any labor done on an unpatented lode gold claim (or placer claim for that matter) should be linked toward prospecting, working, or developing that claim. Prospecting and working a claim are pretty clear terms, but "developing" a claim can cover a whole range of things that are "user defined" and not "bureaucracy defined." Right?
(Room for improvement?)
Don't Do as I Do!
Here's the deal though. I'm not saying you shouldn't do your annual assessment work for any claims you own...lode or placer. But the truth of the matter is that the likelihood of some county, state, or Federal inspector driving across miles of bumpy desert roads to check on your assessment work for a lode claim in the Mojave is pretty unlikely. The bureaucracies that have the main say in mining issues (Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, State Geological Departments, County Assessors/Inspectors, etc., etc.) simply don't have the man (or woman) power, or the funds available to keep track of every mining yahoo's claim assessment work. So lots of claim assessment reports that are filed with the county, state, or Feds are either plain fiction or "gussied up" to suit whatever requirement are out there. I'll be totally honest with you...I never worried much about assessment work on any claim I ever worked. I'm not suggesting that's a good thing nor am I implying that you should do the same. But I will tell you this...never once was I ever visited on a claim by a bureaucratic "authority" to check on my annual assessment work. Can it happen and does it happen? You bet it does...just ask some of those high-profile TV miners. But their shit's in the wind because they're running big commercial operations and strutting their stuff on the boob tube. That's bound to draw bureaucratic heat. So, all this said...it's your call. But I think it's best to do the right thing and not worry about it down the road. Again, don't do as I do...do as I suggest!
Just Plain Wrong
I'd like to go back to the first part of this post and rant a bit about the idea of claim assessment work being a safeguard (of sorts, anyway) against someone just holding a claim for other purposes than working it. Here's where all this claim shit goes wrong. Even as late as 2010 I worked a placer claim on an annual trip to California's North Yuba River where the next claim downstream was used as a recreation and camping spot by a bunch of non-miners who came up every summer from the big city (Sacramento or the Frisco Bay Area) in their big-ass motor home with a gaggle of folks just to camp, fish, and party. I say non-miners because I NEVER saw any one of that gang ever break out a gold pan or sluice box to pan or mine. Not once! They filed on that claim just to use it for their personal recreational purposes...not for mining. There's nothing wrong with camping and partying per se...but there is certainly something wrong with filing a claim, then posting it with "No Mining" signs, and proceeding to use it as your own campground without doing a lick of mining or one iota of assessment work. So where is the mining bureaucracy in a deal like this? And these folks got away with their scam year after year after year. For all I know they're still the owners of a claim that they never work or do assessment work on. That is just plain wrong and it points out one of the abuses of existing mining laws and claim requirements.
(My motto? "Use it or lose it!")
There's more to come so hang in there.
(c) Jim Rocha 2018
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org