We receive lots of emails from people who find their name or a relative’s name on our site and want to know if this means they have some right to the land listed under that name. The short answer is “probably not” but the complete answer deserves the time and attention that is best served in a blog post.
There are many types of interest relationships that an entity can have with a claim. One can be an agent, standing in for an owner (this is often a lawyer). One can also be a trustee, managing a claim that is under trust. The most common type of relationship is to be a claimant (claim owner).
Claim ownership gives the claimant property rights to otherwise public land. Different case types (placer, load, mill site, and tunnel.) allow for various forms of mining activities on the land. A staked claim is not the same as buying a piece of land and so ownership is a question of whether you have both established ownership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—through purchase, inheritance, by staking a claim, etc—AND that you have maintained this claim—by keeping up-to-date with BLM requirements.
Is the claim “active”?
Claims can go through many different “dispositions.” When claim paperwork is first filed but hasn’t been approved, the claim’s disposition is listed as “pending.” Once the claim has been approved, the claim is now “active.” This means that the owners can start mining the land in accordance with the terms of their claim.
There are many reasons why a claim may be “closed.” When a claim is active, the claimant is leasing the land from the federal government*. Every year, the claimant must renew the claim by filing paperwork and paying their annual maintenance fee**. Failure to renew will result in the claim being closed and the land be turned back over to the BLM. If the land is not as valuable as the claimant had expected or no longer convenient to own, the claimant may voluntarily close it. The state of land may also change, such as what is happening in the Angeles National Forest, where part of it is being redesignated as a national monument. As such, that land is no longer managed by the BLM and, therefor, claims will cease to be valid. Regardless, once a claim is closed, the owner and anyone related to the owner no longer has rights to that land.
If the claim is active, things get a bit more complicated:
Is the current owner really you?
For those who find their names on an owner page but don’t remember staking a claim, the claim probably belongs to another person of that name. Staking a claim requires paperwork, the creation and filing of a map of the land being claimed, and monuments erected on the corners of the claim. Granted, if you bought or inherited this claim, then the process of staking the claim was already completed by the original claimant. Yet, as mentioned above, claims also have to be maintained, which means someone has to be filing the renewal and paying the maintenance fees to keep it open. It is unlikely to just forget about this process though there have been occasions where a claim is jointly owned by a family where all this was done by some other family member.
Is this a case of inheritance?
Claims can be bought, sold, and inherited. In any of these cases, it is still important to remember that the annual fees and paper work do not end with the past ownership. It is now your responsibility to make sure that the BLM is up-to-date with the claims ownership and the lease continues to be annually renewed. In cases where there is a waiver, 43 CFR 3835.20 states:
(a) If you purchase, inherit, or otherwise obtain mining claims or sites that are subject to a waiver, you must also qualify for the waiver in order for BLM to continue to apply the waiver to the mining claims you have received in the transfer; or
(b) If you purchase, inherit, or otherwise obtain mining claims or sites that are subject to a waiver and you do not qualify for the waiver, you must pay the annual maintenance fee by the September 1 following the date the transfer became effective under state law.
Therefore, it is important to make sure that you are fully in compliance with the BLM, as what applied to the previous owner, may not apply to you.
We made a flowchart to quickly run through these questions:
Can I Reopen My Claim?
For those who still want the family claim, even after it has been closed, the process (called relocation) is more complicated. Fortunately, a previously staked claim means that you have all the information about the claim already filled out. The borders are already defined and, hopefully, the claim remains marked.***
Unfortunately, the land in question may no longer be available. The land could now fall under a different designation such as a national park or monument and not be claimable. Even if the land is still claimable, once a claim has been closed, anyone else can stake a claim to it.
To stake your own claim, you will need to confirm that no one else has an overlapping right to that land. A quick starting place is to see if there are any other claims in that same township by looking at any township pages listed on your claim page on The Diggings. The only definitive confirmation, however, is to work with your local BLM office where you can inspect detailed maps on any nearby active claims.
If you in the process of relocation or have successfully relocated a claim, we would particularly love to hear from you in the comments!
* Unless the claim in question is a patent claim, in which case, the claimant fully owns the land. There has been a moratorium, however, on patent claims since 1994. Therefor, current claimants can only lease land from the government.
** Small scale miners that qualify for a fee waiver can file for that waiver rather than paying a maintenance fee. Learn more about annual maintenance on the BLM website: Annual Maintenance Of A Mining Claim Or Site.
*** Though relocating a claim does still require a little extra work such as creating new monuments or fixing the existing ones to meet their original requirements. This can vary by state government.