Each BLM field office has managerial capabilities for its own area. You are restricted to panning, metal detecting, highbanking, and dredging with up to a 4-inch nozzle (the limit used to be 3 inches). Prospecting holes of three or four yards are okay on BLM lands, but you must fill in your holes before leaving the area. Also, if you pack it in, pack it out. (And, while you're at it, please be a good citizen and pack out more than you packed in.)
Where to prospect on BLM land
You do not need a mining claim to prospect on BLM land and, with few exceptions, you may go anywhere on BLM land to prospect unless it is a posted claim. Claims may be 1,500 feet long and 600 feet wide and may extend outward on both sides of a stream. All claims must be staked and have a four-foot monument erected with the claim name and serial number, name or names of the locators, the number of feet claimed and in which direction from the point of discovery, whether the entire 1,500 feet is taken on one side or both sides of the discovery, and how many feet are claimed on each side of the discovery point.
There is a hiker's group who take stakes out of mining claims, so you must walk an area to see if any stakes are there. If not, then it is okay to work the area. Only the mineral rights are "leased" from the BLM, so a claim leaser cannot legally run you off of BLM lands. If, however, someone comes by and says that you are on their claim and to get off of it, don't argue. Simply pack up and walk away. Even though you have a right to be on BLM land, it is better to avoid what could turn into a serious confrontation.
If you are prospecting an area that appears to be open but you find a can with claim information in it buried in the ground, rebury it and do not prospect the claim further.
When you intend to prospect an area, be cautious and look around. If a BLM map area has red squiggly lines around out, it is protected federal land that has been "withdrawn."
BLM and FS differences
There are major differences in BLM land and Forest Service land. The Forest Service considers the lands they manage are "theirs," rather than "ours." They also believe they have the right to make rules and regulations regarding lands within their boundaries which they effectively "own."
The BLM, on the other hand, considers BLM land as belonging to the people of the United States and manage it that way; it is "our" land. A few very small BLM land strips and small parcels are being released to the public, especially where pieces are surrounded by privately owned land. These land owners are the first to have this land offered to them. The BLM prefers not to sell these lands, but to swap for other lands that are more accessible to the public. Some people, however, may not want to swap or sell their strips to the BLM because of the federal tax situation in which it puts them.
The Forest Service believes in segregation of recreational activities--hikers from equestrians, equestrians from off-roaders, etc.
The BLM believes that lands under their purview should be managed with a multiple-use concept and available to recreational hikers, bikers, equestrians, off-roaders, and, yes, prospectors.
Under federal law, the Forest service has to have at least one access road to the land it "owns." The BLM is under no such restriction, which is fortunate as their budget would not support such a measure.
BLM and FS similarities
The Forest Service and the BLM have both been hit by political action groups with their high-powered lawyers. A response to a request must be returned within 30 days (20 days with a 10-day extension). Yet personnel resources are very low and it is difficult to do this on time. The political action lawyers go immediately to court and the Forest Service and the BLM have lost several times in their suits. These nuisance requests come in two or three times a week in Colorado and handling them is very costly. In addition, many people who have handled these requests in the past have moved on and replacing them has not gone well. Because of these problems, the Forest Service is bowing to this unwaranted pressure and is leaning against the small-scale miner in favor of the big-money political action hikers' groups who have been gathering political appointees behind them.
Added to these problems are the violence against the Forest Service and the BLM who have had offices bombed in the past. That's because in some states, vicious political action groups and others are willing to go to extremes to stop the Forest Service's and BLM's work. For example, in one state a man walked into a small restaurant wearing a BLM shirt. Tourists found him later left for dead. New BLM "uniforms" are jeans and T-shirt (and the T-shirts no longer have bull's-eyes on them!). In light of this, it should be noted that folks from the BLM are the messengers, not the ones who make the rules--congress does that.
It is the similarities, as well as financial necessity, that have resulted in the BLM and the Forest Service to begin to combine with other entities to centralize and co-locate their offices around the country.
Added to the burden imposed by political action groups is the burden of handling claims. BLM lawyers are too busy to give BLM offices help because they're in court all the time. In 1992 (for the 1993 assessment year), the $5.00 per claim fee went to $200 per claim--that is, unless there is a field-office-approved plan of operation. Field offices couldn't keep up with requests and people began losing claims. A letter-writing campaign, initiated by a recreational mining group, caused legislation to be passed which stated that a small-scale miner was one who had ten or fewer claims and would no longer have to pay $200. This goes to show that grass-roots activity works!
An important note: When filing for a claim, you have to file for a full year, but be sure to file for the small-scale miner exception certification before the August 31st deadline.
The BLM and the small miner
The BLM actually wants the small-scale miner out there. The BLM understands the importance of the activities of small-scale prospectors who take care of the land in such a way that it is maintained for everyone, including hikers.
Transcribed by Dick Oakes.