T -’ United States General Accounting Office GAO Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Mining and Natural Resources, Committee. oqJnterior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives August 1990 FEDERAL LAND MANAGEMENT Unauthorized Activities Occurring on Hardrock Mining claims RESTRIcTED-- Not to be released outside the General Accounting Office unless specifically approved by the Ofllce of Congressional ReIatious. GAO/RCED-90-111 .. United States GAO General Accounting Office Washington, D.C. 20548 Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division B-229205 August 17, 1990 The Honorable Nick J. Rahall, II Chairman, Subcommittee on Mining and Natural Resources Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs House of Representatives Dear Mr. Chairman: This report responds to your request that we identify the types of unau- thorized nonmining activities occurring on hardrockl mining claims on federal land and the problems resulting from these activities. As agreed, we limited our review to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Ser- vice, which together manage about 460 mi.lIion, or about 64 percent, of the approximately 724 million acres of federally owned land. We also limited our review primarily to the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, which have the highest number of hardrock mining claims on federal land and have a large number of new claims filed each year. (App. I provides a more detailed explanation of our scope and methodology.) The issue of unauthorized no nmining surface activities on hardrock mining claims falls under the purview of the Mining Law of 1872, enacted to promote the exploration and development of domestic min- eral resources. The act does not, however, clearly specify what types of surface activities are not authorized. The Surface Resources Act of 1966 did, however, make clear that mining claims cannot be used for any pur- *pose other than prospecting, mining, and processing operations, as well as activities reasonably incidental thereto. Subsequent court rulings together with regulations and policies promulgated by the federal land- managing agencies have served to further clarify what activities the federal government will tolerate on mining claims. However, ambiguities remain concerning whether and under what circumstances activities such as residency are authorized. Our visits to 69 sites in Arizona, California, and Nevada together with Results in Brief our review of applicable laws, regulations, policies, and procedures as ‘Hardrock minerals include cooper, gold, iron, lead, and silver. Page 1 GAO/‘WEDW-111 Unadmhd Acdvitka on Hadrock Claimm B229206 well as discussions with federal land-managing agency officials showed that: l Some claim holders are using their claims for unauthorized residences, nor-mining commercial operations, illegal activities, or speculative activ- ities not related to legitimate mining. Agency officials estimate that of the over 662,000 mining claims in the three states included in our review, about 1,600 have known or suspected unauthorized activities occurring on them. l Unauthorized activities result in a variety of problems, including blocked access to public land by fences and gates; safety hazards to those using the land, such as threats of physical violence and bran- dishing of firearms; environmental eyesores caused by abandoned vehi- cles, dumped garbage, and road construction; environmental contamination caused by the unsafe storage of hazardous wastes; investment scams that defraud the public; and increased costs to reclaim damaged land or otherwise acquire land from claim holders intent on profiting from holding out for monetary compensation from parties wishing to use the land for other purposes. BLM and the Forest Service manage about 460 million acres that contain the vast majority of the 1.2 million active mining claims. The sheer number of claims and the extensive acreage involved make it difficult for the federal land-managing agencies to prevent unauthorized activi- ties or stop them at an early stage. And eliminating existing and often long-standing unauthorized activities is an unduly expensive, and com- plicated process. While there is no panacea for eliminating or preventing all unauthorized activities on mining claims, we believe that steps can be ” taken to reduce the frequency of their occurrence and to more quickly eliminate existing ones. Page 2 GAO/BCED9@111 Unauthorhd Actlvitiee on Hardrock Claims B2292Qb The Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. 22 et seq.) allows U.S. citizens and Chronology of Laws businesses to freely prospect for hardrock minerals on federal land not and Regulations specifically closed or withdrawn from mineral entry.2 Prospectors can Governing file a claim, which covers about 20 acres, giving them the right to use the land for mining-related activities. The mining law allows claim Unauthorized holders to preserve the rights to their claims by performing annually the Activities On Hardrock equivalent of at least $100 worth of drilling, excavating, or other devel- opment-related work. Claim holders generally do not have to prove dis- Mining Claims covery of a valuable mineral deposit to maintain their claims unless, for example, the government challenges the validity of their claims. The Surface Resources Act of 1955 (30 U.S.C. 612(a)) requires that mining claims be used only for prospecting, mining, mineral processing, and activities reasonably incidental to those operations. The act left to the federal land-managing agencies the task of determining what activi- ties are reasonably incidental to mining. The Forest Service issued regulations that became effective in 1974 to protect surface resources on national forests during mining and explora- tion. BLM’s companion surface management regulations became effective in 1981. Roth regulations require that those proposing to mine and occupy mining claims file a notice or plan of operations describing the proposed operation and related activities. The responsible federal agency must then either approve or reject the proposed activities. Despite the intent of the Mining Law of 1872 to promote mining and the Nonmining Activities Surface Resources Act’s restriction of nonmining activities, some claim and Their Related .holders are using their claims for unauthorized residences, nonmining Problems commercial operations, and illegal activities or speculative activities not related to legitimate mining. Many of these unauthorized activities are accompanied by environmental, public safety, or other problems. Residency is the most frequent unauthorized activity on hardrock mining claims. Of the 59 sites we visited, 33 had unauthorized resi- dences ranging from small rundown shacks to permanent, more expen- sive, year-round dwellings. The more elaborate residences have amenities such as gazebos, garages, greenhouses, and satellite television dishes. All these claim holders live rent-free on public land. Problems associated with unauthorized residences included blocked access or *Mlnhg Is not permitted on more than 136 million acres of federal land. Page 3 GAO/RCEIMSlll Unaathorhd Activities on Hardrock Clnima b22920fi rights-of-way, which may be associated with threats of physical vio- lence to the public and agency staff, and environmental eyesores such as abandoned vehicles, dumped garbage, and road construction. (See app. III.) Some mining claims, usually with unauthorized residences, also are used for nonmining commercial operations ranging from rental properties to unsafe toxic chemical storage that can endanger the environment, threaten underground water supplies, and increase the cost to reclaim the land. (See app. IV.) Other claims are used for a variety of illegal activities, including investment scams that have defrauded investors of at least $250 million and marijuana cultivation frequently guarded by armed men or booby traps. (See app. V.) Still other claims are filed to profit by blocking an anticipated land use until prospective users buy out the claim holders’ interest. These “nui- sance claims” can impede government land transfers, cost the federal government hundreds of thousands of dollars, and hinder legitimate mining operations and other federal land uses. (See app. VI.) Reasonsfor existing laws and agency policies, federal land-managing agencies are Unauthorized not likely to prevent all new ones or eliminate the backlog of existing Activities Are Varied ones for several reasons. Primary among these reasons is the simple fact that to meet its purpose of promoting the exploration and development of domestic mineral resources, the mining law makes it relatively easy and inexpensive for claim holders to file and preserve the rights to their e claims. As a result, there are about 1.2 million active claims spread throughout the western states and Alaska. The sheer number of claims and the acreage involved make it virtually impossible for the land- managing agencies to detect all existing unauthorized activities within any reasonable level of staff resources. In addition, the large number of new claims filed each year makes it difficult and often impossible for the land- managing agencies to monitor and interact with claim holders to avoid unauthorized activities or stop them at an early stage. For example, about 160,000 new claims were filed in 1988 alone. When an unauthorized activity is identified, the responsible land- managing agency faces an often long and costly process to either invali- date the claim or eliminate the activity, in part because under existing Page 4 GAO/RcEDgolll Unaathorlzed Activitlea on Hardrock Claim5 5229206 regulations, the burden of proof is on the federal government to show that the activity is not incidental to mining rather than on the claim holder to show that it is. Since mining operations range from multimil- lion-dollar endeavors to very limited pick and shovel work, proving that a claim is not being developed or that an activity is not incidental to mining can be difficult. Moreover, while the federal government can seek injunctive relief or damages for trespass relating to an unautho- rized activity without first having to determine the validity of a mining claim, U.S. attorneys are often reluctant to prosecute these cases because of higher competing priorities. Instead of proving that an activity is not incidental to mining, a federal land-managing agency can invalidate a claim if it can show that a claim cannot be mined economically. However, this requires that BLM or the Forest Service perform a mineral examination which, according to BLM officials, usually costs about $10,000 in staff time alone. Agency deci- sions invalidating a claim or eliminating an activity determined not to be incidental to mining can be appealed through the existing tiered admin- istrative appeals process and in the federal courts. In those cases where the federal government proves that an activity is not incidental to mining, a claim holder’s potential losses are often limited to the invest- ment in the unauthorized activity, and when a claim is invalidated, a claim holder can immediately refile another claim on the same location. Finally, decisions to eliminate an unauthorized activity, especially those involving a claim holder’s permanent residence, can become both emo- tional and controversial. According to the Forest Service, efforts to elim- inate a residency sometimes result in an emotional conflict and Unfavorable publicity followed by requests from public officials for more time or different solutions. The Forest Service states that this adds to, and significantly increases, the time and energy already spent. While there is no panacea for eliminating or preventing all unauthorized Alternatives to Reduce activities on hardrock mining claims, there are several alternatives for the Number of reducing their number. The Forest Service, in commenting on a draft of Unauthorized this report, suggested that federal land-managing agencies could revise their regulations to (1) clearly state that residency and nonmining com- Activities Are Limited mercial activities are normally not authorized and (2) shift the burden of proof to the claim holder to show that an activity is incidental to mining. On the basis of our work, we agree that existing regulations need to be revised to clearly state that residency and nonmining com- mercial activities are not normally authorized. We believe that this Page 5 GAO/R~~lll Unanthorlmd Actltiti- on Hardrock Claima B-229206 would help shift the burden of proof to claim holders to show that an activity is incidental to mining and would reduce the number of unau- thorized activities. The Forest Service also suggested that the agencies simplify some of the government’s procedures involving claim contests, Specifically, it sug- gested that the time required to eliminate existing and many times long- standing unauthorized activities can be shortened if BLM did not have to review and approve work done by certified Forest Service mineral examiners and review examiners before beginning the administrative appeals process. We believe that the complexity and time-consuming nature of the existing process for invalidating claims suggests that the Forest Service and BLM should jointly review this and other procedures that could make the process for eliminating unauthorized activities more efficient. We believe that the number of unauthorized activities can be further reduced by reducing the number of claims that are not being actively explored, developed, or mined. While we support the purpose of the mining law, it makes little sense to allow it to continue to be used to encumber federal lands with mining claims not likely to be mined in the foreseeable future. While no hard data exist, BIM and Forest Service officials estimate that over 80 percent of the over 1.2 million claims con- sidered “active” are not being explored, developed, or mined. Some of these claims, in turn, are used for unauthorized activities that result in the variety of problems identified in this report. In a March 1989 report,3 we stated that the mining law’s annual work requirement (1) no longer ensures that a mining claim will be developed, w (2) is difficult for federal land-managing agencies to enforce, and (3) is generally recognized by the mining community as being circumvented by many claim holders who certify that they have met the requirement without ever performing the work. The Forest Service noted that the work requirement can also help ensure that claims are held in good faith. However, its effectiveness is limited to the extent that claim holders actually perform the work. Therefore, we recommended that the Congress amend the act to require claim holders to pay the federal gov- ernment an annual holding fee in place of the existing annual work requirement. An identical proposal was made by the administration in 3Fe&ral Land Management: The Mining Law of 1872 Needs Revision (GAO/RCED89-72. Mar 10. lxw). Page 6 GAO/BcEDL)o111 Unauthorized Activltlea on Hardrock Claima 5229206 the President’s fiscal year 1991 budget, and a bill to impose an annual holding fee of $100 per claim has been introduced in the Senate. In our March 1989 report, we concluded that, depending on the amount, requiring every claim holder to pay an annual fee would likely result in clearing more invalid, inactive, or abandoned claims from the records and making those claims available to others because claim holders not intent on developing their claims may be reluctant to pay the annual fee. In a February 1990 analysis of the expected impacts of an annual holding fee, the Congressional Budget Office agreed with our conclusion, stating that a yearly fee would clear inactive claims, thus opening up land formerly closed to hardrock mining. The President’s fiscal year 1991 budget estimates that a $100 annual holding fee would clear about 225,000 claims in fiscal year 1991 alone. This also would likely eliminate the unauthorized activities occurring on these claims. The higher the annual fee, the higher the likelihood that invalid, inactive, and aban- doned claims will be cleared and the higher the likelihood that unautho- rized activities will be eliminated. Claim holders who use their claims for unauthorized activities create a Conclusions variety of problems for federal land-managing agencies. Moreover, these activities are difficult and expensive to prevent or eliminate. However, several alternatives are available to reduce the frequency of their occur- rence. One is to implement our prior recommendation to require claim holders to pay the federal government an annual holding fee in place of the existing annual work requirement. On the basis of our work on unauthorized activities occurring on hardrock mineral claims, we believe that the Congress should consider an annual holding fee that is gradu- ated over time, thereby encouraging timely development of mineral resources rather than the hording of claims on federal lands. We also believe that BLM and the Forest Service should (1) revise their regula- tions to clearly state that residency and nonmining commercial activities are normally not authorized, thereby shifting the burden of proof to the claim holder to show that an activity is incidental to mining and (2) jointly review the process for invalidating claims to determine whether changes, such as eliminating BLM’S review and approval of the Forest Service’s mineral examinations, can make the process more efficient. Page 7 GAO/RCEDBSlll Unauthorized Acdvitiem on Ebrdmck Claima 5229205 In a March 1989 report, we recommended that the Congress amend the Recommendationto Mining Law of 1872 to require claim holders to pay the federal govem- the Congress ment an annual holding fee in place of the existing annual work require- ment. One likely result, depending on the amount of the fee, would be a reduction in the number of invalid, inactive, and abandoned claims together with a reduction in the number of unauthorized activities occurring on them. To discourage more claim holders not intent on developing their claims and more activities not incidental to mining, we recommend that the mining law be amended to require claim holders to pay the federal government an annual holding fee that can be graduated over time. In establishing such a fee, a balance must be struck between an amount high enough to discourage those not intent on developing their claims from retaining existing claims and filing new ones and an amount low enough not to discourage legitimate miners. claims on federal land, we recommend that the Secretaries of the Inte- the Secretaries of the rior and Agriculture direct the Director of BLM and the Chief of the Interior and Forest Service, respectively, to (1) revise their surface management reg- ulations to clearly state that residency and nonmining commercial activ- Agric ‘Ulture ities are normally not authorized on hardrock mining claims, thereby shifting the burden of proof to the claim holder to show that an activity is incidental to mining and (2) jointly review the process for invalidating claims to determine whether changes, such as eliminating BLM’S review and approval of the Forest Service’s mineral examinations, can make the process more efficient. If any of these revisions requires legislative changes, the Secretaries should submit the appropriate language to the * Congress for its consideration. Agency Comments and ments on a draft of this report. Interior’s and Agriculture’s comments Our Evaluation and our evaluation of them are included as appendixes VIII and IX, respectively. Interior noted that it had implemented a criminal penalty authority as a means to prevent or deter unauthorized activities on mining claims. Therefore, we have deleted a proposal we made in our draft report calling for Interior to adopt such a regulation. Concerning our recom- mendation that the Congress amend the mining law to require claim holders to pay a graduated fee, Interior noted that the President’s fiscal Page 8 GAO/RCED#Slll Unauthorized AcUvltIea on lhrdmck Clahw year 1991 budget proposes an annual $100 holding fee for each mining claim on federal land. Conversely, Agriculture disagreed with our recommendation to the Con- gress for a graduated annual holding fee, stating that it does not believe that such fees will effectively eliminate unauthorized activities and could adversely affect mineral development, particularly for small mining companies. Agriculture also identified actions that it believed the Congress and the federal land-managing agencies should take to reduce the number of unauthorized activities on hardrock mining claims. To respond to Agriculture’s concerns and suggestions, we added a new sec- tion to this report that discusses alternatives for reducing the number of unauthorized activities as well as our evaluation of Agriculture’s sug- gested revisions to federal surface management regulations. As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days from the date of this letter. At that time, we will send copies to interested parties and make copies available to others upon request. This report was prepared under the direction of James Duffus III, Director, Natural Resources Management Issues (202) 275-7756. Other major contributors to this report are listed in appendix X. Sincerely yours, 0 we J. Dexter Peach Assistant Comptroller General P8#e 9 GAO/XCElHB111 Un~~thorlzed Activltks on timhock Claims Contents Letter Appendix I 14 Objectives, Scope,and Methodology Appendix II 15 Background Appendix III 19 Unauthorized Unauthorized Residences Cover a Wide Range of Structures 19 Residences Unauthorized Residences on Claims Where No Mining Is 20 occurring Unauthorized Residences Not Incidental to Mining 21 Problems Associated With Unauthorized Residences 21 Appendix IV 27 Nonmining Commercial Operations Appendix V 30 Illegal Activities I Mining Claim Investment Scams Marijuana Cultivation 30 33 Appendix VI Nuisance Claims Appendix VII Unauthorized Legislation and Regulations to Prevent Unauthorized Activities Came Years After Many Problems Arose Activities Continue Unauthorized Uses Persist Preventing New Unauthorized Uses Is Difficult P8ge 10 GAO/ECED&%l 11 Un~thorIzed Activt~ee on lhrdmck Claims Contents Appendix VIII 40 Comments From the GAO Comments 42 Department of the Interior Appendix IX 43 CommentsFrom the GAO Comments 49 U.S. Department of Agriculture Appendix X 52 Major Contributors to This Report Tables Table I. 1: Claim Sites Visited 14 Table II. 1: Known and Suspected Unauthorized Activities 18 by State and Agency - Figures Figure II. 1: Claims of Record as of January 1989 16 Figure III. 1: Unauthorized Shack and a Permanent 19 Residence on Claims Figure 111.2:Unauthorized Residence on a Claim in the 21 Tahoe National Forest With No Recent Mining ‘Figure 111.3:Examples of Blocked Public Access 22 Figure 111.4:Blocked Access Associated With an 23 Unauthorized Residence on a Claim in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona Figure 111.5:Assorted Junk Associated With an 24 Unauthorized Residence in California’s Angeles National Forest Figure 111.6:Eyesores on Claims in the Tonto National 25 Forest, Arizona Figure IV. 1: Unauthorized Rental Unit on a Claim in 27 Randsburg, California Figure IV.2: Hazardous Materials Stored on Mojave Desert 28 Claim Page 11 GAO/lEED~lll Unmdhodzed Activities on Hardrock Claims Contents Figure IV.3: Chemical Containers on a Claim in the 29 Mojave Desert Figure V. 1: Damaged Riparian Area on Forest Service 31 Grazing Allotment in the Prescott National Forest, Arizona Figure V.2: Unauthorized Residences and Truck Scale on a 32 Claim Near Lake Isabella, California, Pending Investigation as a Mining Scam Figure V.3: Marijuana Observation Post on a Claim Near 33 Nevada City, California Abbreviations DOE Department of Energy BLM Bureau of Land Management EPA Environmental Protection Agency GAO General Accounting Office IBL4 Interior Board of Land Appeals w 12 GAO/ECEDHblll Unaotho~ Actlvitiea on Hardrock Claims P8ge 13 Appendix I - Objectives, Scope,and Methodology To identify the types of activities that are authorized and specifically unauthorized on mining claims, we reviewed the laws and the agency regulations, policies, and procedures related to mining claims on federal land. To identify the types of not-mining activities occurring on hardrock mining claims, we first identified the total number of mining claims of record and the number of new claims filed annually with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) since 1985. BLA4 records mining claims for all federal land open to mining. We selected Arizona, California, and Nevada because they have the most claims filed on federal land and they have large numbers of new claims filed each year. We limited our review to BLM and the Forest Service because, together, they are respon- sible for managing about 64 percent of federal land. To identify unauthorized activities, we reviewed applicable data on the claims and interviewed BLM and Forest Service headquarters and field officials. We also asked the two agencies to provide estimates, by state, of the number of known and suspected unauthorized activities on mining claims. To develop specific case studies, we asked BLM and Forest Service offi- cials to identify sites in the three states selected for our review that pro- vide examples of the types of no nmining activities occurring on mining claims. Forest Service and BLM officials identified 59 such sites in the three states we selected and accompanied us on visits to all the sites during January through March 1989. Table I. 1 identifies the number of s sites by state and agency. Table 1.1: Claim Sites Visited Claim sites AtmlCY - - Arizona California Nevada Total Forest Service 6 29 Oa 35 BLM 9 9 6 24 TOtd 15 36 6 59 We did not visit any Forest Service sites m Nevada because of snow cover at the few stes that the Forest Service tdenhfied. We conducted our work between December 1988 and March 1990 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture provided written comments on a draft of this report. These comments and our evaluation of them are included in appendixes VIII and IX, respectively. P8ge 14 GAO/ECED4&111 Unanthoriwd Activities on Hardrock CLaims Background The Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. 22 et seq.) promotes the exploration and development of mineral resources on federal lands. These lands cover approximately 724 million acres and are located primarily in the western United States. The principal federal land-managing agencies are the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. These two agencies manage about 270 million and 191 million acres, respectively, or about 64 per- cent of all federally owned lands. Each agency is responsible for the sur- face management of mining-related activities on its lands. Under the mining law, U.S. citizens and businesses can freely prospect for hardrock minerals on federal lands not specifically closed or with- drawn from mining and file claims with BLM (for a fee of $10 each), giving them the right, without prior federal approval, to use the land for mining-related activities. In the intervening 118 years since the law was enacted, over 6 million claims have been filed, of which about 1.2 million were active during 1988. The term “active” means that the claims were either actively being mined or their active status was being maintained by claim holders who filed affidavits with BLM certifying that they have annually performed at least $100 worth of drilling, excavating, or other development-related work (often referred to as the act’s “diligence” or “annual work” requirement) for each claim. By filing a claim, a claim holder obtains, certain legal rights1 However, these rights may be chal- lenged by the federal government until the claim holder establishes the claim’s validity by proving that a valuable mineral deposit has been discovered. Over 99 percent of the land covered by mining claims is concentrated in * 11 western states and Alaska. Figure II. 1 shows the claims of record as of January 1989 for these states. ‘A valid mining claim provides the claim holder an exclusive px%aesmxyinterest In the claim-a form of propertythatcanbesold, transferred, or inherited without infringing the paramount title of the United States. The claim holder has the full legal right to explore, develop, mine, and sell minerals from these federal lands. P8ge 15 GAO/‘WED4Wlll Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Figun 11.1:Clrlmr of Rocofd as of Jmmy 1909 Pacific Ocean Colorado 80,255 s.- New Mexico \ t I 30,130 I P8ge 16 Appendix Jl -d The Mining Law of 1872 granted claim holders the right to use the land covered by a claim (about 20 acres) for mining-related activities. While the act’s intent is to promote mining, it does not clearly specify which types of surface activities are authorized and which are not. In the inter- vening years, many claim holders have used their claims for nonmining activities. In the process of eliminating some of these nonrnining activi- ties, a body of case law has developed clearly establishing that to be authorized, activities on mining claims have to be mining related. The Surface Resources Act of 1956 (30 U.S.C. 612 (a)) clarified the claim holder’s surface rights by specifying the circumstances under which a claim holder may occupy a claim. It specifically provides that mining claims can be used only for prospecting, mining, or processing opera- tions and “uses reasonably incident thereto.” Agency policies, set out in a manual for dealing with residential occupancy on mining claims, and developed from the Surface Resources Act and subsequent Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA)* decisions, further provide that in order for claim holders to reside on claims, they must be actively and dili- gently engaged in substantially continuous mining activities and their residences must be reasonably incidental to those activities. The phrase “reasonably incidental” provides some latitude for interpretation. Part- time or weekend prospectors would not meet the standard to reside on a claim. Residency would, however, be reasonably incidental to mining where there are substantial improvements or mining equipment that is reasonably incidental to the ongoing operations or occupancy is required to prevent theft of valuable minerals or equipment. After the Surface Resources Act helped clarify the long-standing ques- y tion of what are authorized activities on mining claims, the Forest Ser- vice, pursuant to its enabling legislation, the Organic Act of 1897 (16 U.S.C. 561), adopted regulations (36 C.F.R. 228) which became effective in 1974 to protect surface resources affected by mining-related activities on National Forest System lands. BLM, pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1701, et seq.), adopted companion regulations (43 C.F.R. 3809), which became effective in 1981. These regulations establish procedures which enable the agencies to identify and approve or reject proposed activities on mining claims. *Interior’s Board of Land Appeals, Office of Hearings and Appeals, is an authorized representative of the Secretary of the Interior, for the purpose of hearing, considering, and determining, as fully and finally as might the Secretary, matters such as the disposition of lands and their resources. Page 17 GAO/RCED9&111 Unauthohed Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix II Background Despite these requirements, some claim holders continue to use their claims for unauthorized residences, nonmining commercial operations, and illegal or speculative activities. Agency officials estimate that in the three states we visited, of a total of over 662,000 mining claims, about 1,600 have known or suspected unauthorized activities. (See table II. 1.) Table 11.1:Known and Suspected Unauthorized Activities by State and Aqency Agency (as of January 1989) Forest Active State BLM Service TOtSI claims Arizona 254 91 345 142,803 Califorma 559 600 1,159 150,480 Nevada 85 21 106 369,048 Total 696 712 1,610 662.331 Page 18 GAO/BcED9O-111 Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix III Unauthorized Residences BLM and Forest Service officials in Arizona, California, and Nevada told us that unauthorized residency is the most frequent nonmining activity on mining claims. Unauthorized residences adversely affect the agen- cies’ ability to effectively manage public land because the residences are often accompanied by a variety of associated problems. We visited 59 claim sites in the three states, 49 of which contained resi- dences BLM or the Forest Service considered the residences on 33 of these sites to be unauthorized at the time of our visit. Residences are unauthorized if no mining is taking place on a claim or if the residence is not reasonably incidental to the mining that is taking place. These resi- dences covered a wide variety of structures, and many residences had one or more other unauthorized uses associated with them. The unauthorized residences on claims we visited included small run- Unauthorized down shacks; various types of trailers; summer cabins; and permanent, ResidencesCover a more expensive, year-around houses. At one extreme, many of the older Wide Rangeof shacks do not meet local health and sanitation codes. By contrast, the more elaborate residences have amenities such as gazebos, garages, Structures greenhouses, and satellite television dishes. The shack and permanent residence shown in figure III. 1 illustrate the range of unauthorized residences. Figure 111.1:Unauthorized Shack and a Permanent Residence on Claim8 Page 19 GAO/BcEDQolll Unauthorized Actlvitiea on Hardmck Claims Appendb Ill U~uchorizmi Residences Even when a claim is being mined, elaborate residences are not necessa- rily allowed. IBLA explained in 1985 that “. . . the right to occupy does not necessarily embrace the right to live in the style one might desire if he or she owned the land in fee.“’ In some scenic locations, claim holders live in unauthorized residences Unauthorized on mining claims where there is no pretense of mining. Often, the mining Residenceson Claims that may have occurred at one time and justified the residency has long Where No Mining Is since ceased, but residency continues. These claim holders live rent-free Occurring . on public land. For example, a Forest Service official showed us a claim in California’s Tahoe National Forest which had a residence that he said was unauthorized. The claim holder lived on the banks of the Yuba River in a large house with a picturesque setting, but no mining was taking place. (See fig. 111.2.)A Forest Service official told us that the agency became aware of the unauthorized residence when the claim holder questioned why the Forest Service sent her a questionnaire con- cerning mining operations. No mining had occurred on the claim in years, she said. ‘Bruce W. Crawford et Ux., IBL4 83-861, May 17, 1986. “Fee” means acquiring all nghts and mter- ests associated with a property. P8ge 20 GAO/RCED9&111 Unauthorized Acdvitiea on Hardrock Claims Appendix Ill Unauthorized Residences Figure 111.2:Unauthorized Residence on a Claim in the Tahoe National Forest With No Recent Mining Many residences, particularly in scenic areas, are associated with part- Unauthorized time mining operations where the mining is minimal or seasonal. These ResidencesNot residences are not authorized because they do not meet BLM and Forest Incidental to Mining. Service policies that diligent mining-related activities be in progress and residences be reasonably incidental to those activities. For example, about 200 claim holders and their families live in unauthorized resi- dences near the Salmon and Klamath rivers in the Klamath National Forest, California. According to Forest Service officials, in most of these * cases, the mining appears incidental to the residency rather than the reverse. Forest Service officials also told us that in one area of the Kla- math National Forest, a rural mail route served 40 residences-37 of which were unauthorized because they were not reasonably incidental to ongoing mining. Problems associated with unauthorized residences on mining claims Problems Associated include blocked access or rights-of-way, which may be associated with With Unauthorized threats of physical violence to the public and agency staff attempting to Residences use what should be open public land; environmental eyesores caused by abandoned vehicles, dumped garbage, and unauthorized road construc- tion; and management complications. Page 2 1 GAO,4tCED~111 Un~~~thorhed Actlvtttes on Hardrock Cm Appendix Ill Unauthorized Residencea Blocked Access Unauthorized residences deny the general public their right to safely enjoy the benefits of public land. Claim holders often block public land through a variety of means including erecting fences and gates and posting “no-trespassing” and “private property” signs. There have also been instances of claim holders issuing verbal threats, and brandishing firearms. (See fig. III.3 for pictures of blocked accesses.) Figure 111.3:Examples of Blocked Public Access Page 22 GAO/BCED-g&111 Un~~thocized Activities on Hardrock Chhs Appendix Ill Unauthorized Residences For example, Forest Service officials told us that the Tahoe National Forest contains about 360 unauthorized residencies-most located on mining claims. They said that one stretch of the north Yuba River, which runs through the forest, was closed to camping because the banks are covered with claims, many of which involve unauthorized residences. Some unauthorized residents block access to public land with threats of violence. We saw video recordings taken by agency officials on mining claims in northern California that showed claim holders, some with automatic weapons, threatening agency officials. Because of concern for how one potentially violent claim holder might react to our visit, Forest Service officials decided that we needed to be accompanied by an armed law enforcement ranger when we visited his claim in the Angeles National Forest, California. We visited another unauthorized residence in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona. The claim holder had a gate across a Forest Service road about 5 miles from a Forest Service campground. (See fig. 111.4.)Forest Service documents revealed several instances where individuals, including an off-duty Forest Service ranger, reported that the claim holder told them they could not pass through the area or that they were blocked from leaving the area after entering. Figure 111.4:Blocked Access Associated With an Unauthorized Residence on a Claim in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona Page 23 GAO/IKEBB&lll Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix Ill Unauthorized Residencea Environmental Eyesores Environmental eyesores are often found on claims with unauthorized residences. Some claim holders operate on public land like it is private property-dumping junk and storing old equipment and vehicles. We observed a wide variety of junk strewn about a claim in California’s Angeles National Forest that also contained an unauthorized residence. (See fig. 111.5.) Figure III.5 Assorted Junk Associated With an Unauthorized Residence in California’s Angeles National Forest At the unauthorized residence which we visited in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, the claim holder had constructed many unauthorized * roads. Some, including the one shown in figure 111.6,parallel existing Forest Service roads. This claim holder also has a number of inoperable vehicles, trash piles, and an unused cyanide pond located on his claims. Forest Service officials told us that no recent mining has taken place on these claims. P8ge 24 GAO/UCEBBt%lll Unauthorized Actlvitlea on Hardrock Claims API=* m Unanthorized Re&dencea Figure 111.6:Eyesores on Claims in the Tonto National Forest, Arizona - ,, _. ,_ - ,--. ; ..a Management Difficulties Unauthorized residences in a national forest can have adverse conse- quences on forest management. For example, the Forest Service’s first P8ge 25 GAO/,%cFD#lll unulthoria?d A42tivtuu on &rrdrock fxaima ‘4ppendi.s III Unauthorized Residences priority in fire fighting is to protect people and structures. Forest Ser- vice officials said that as a result, sometimes forest fires get out of con- trol because fire fighting resources must be diverted to protect people and structures regardless of whether they are authorized. . Page 26 GAO,%CEDWl 11 Unaathorlzed Actividw on brdrock Claima Appendix IV Nonmining Commercial Operations Some mining claims are used for nonmining commercial operations ranging from rental properties to toxic chemical storage. We visited a site in Randsburg, California, where a ELMofficial told us that a claim holder lived in an unauthorized residency. The claim holder was also using an unauthorized cabin as a rental property. (See fig. IV. 1.) The BLM official told us that the area is an old mining district; however, no recent mining has occurred on this claim. The cabin shown in figure IV. 1 was one of an estimated 20 unauthorized structures in the area. Figure IV.1: Unauthorized Rental Unit on a Claim in Aandsburg, California Nonmining commercial operations on claims may cause far greater envi- * ronmental and reclamation problems than those associated with the more numerous unauthorized residences. These problems include unsafe storage of hazardous waste materials, which can endanger the environ- ment and threaten underground water supplies. In addition, commercial operations may involve large accumulations of equipment and other material that have nothing to do with mining and will have to be removed to reclaim the mine site. We visited two sites in the Mojave Desert in southern California where commercial operations were being conducted on mining claims. Near Lancaster, California (see fig. IV.2), one claim holder was using an 1 l- acre claim site to store scrap metal which, a BLM official said, he was selling overseas. In addition to the scrap metal, the claim holder stored Page 27 GAO/BCEDM-111 Unauthorized Activities on Hudrock Claims other materials including arsenic, copper, cyanide, and heavy metals. The state regional water quality control board determined that three of the settling ponds on the property were toxic pits, and the Environ- mental Protection Agency (EPA) initially estimated that site clean-up would cost about $1 million. A BLM official told us in March 1990 that the estimated cost had been reduced because the claim holder had recently sold some of the scrap that had been stored on the claim. None of the.operations on the claim were authorized. Figure IV.2: Hazardous Materials Stored on Moiave Desert Claim 0. We visited another nearby site where the claim holder was using the claim to recover silver from photographic processing materials. This site had numerous drums strewn about which BLM officials believe contain hazardous chemicals. (See fig. lV.3.) In 1989, BLM had a hazardous materials contractor sample materials at the site for laboratory analysis. As of March 1990, BLM had not received the results of the contractor’s analysis. Page 28 GAO/IKXD-Wlll Uwthorhd ActivItiea on Hudrock Cldma Appendix N Notunhing Commercial Operatlo~ Figure IV.3: Chomkal Containen on a Claim In the Mojave Desert Page 29 GAO/RCED9&111 Unauthorized Acthider, on Hardrock Claima Appendix V Illegal Activities Mining claims are also used for a variety of illegal activities. Some mining claims have provided the basis for investment scams whereas others have been used for marijuana cultivation. Mining claim investment scams have long been a method of defrauding Mining Claim the public. However, the scams have become more sophisticated and Investment Scams prevalent in recent years. Documented investor losses have reached at least $250 million, according to the Director, New Mexico Securities Division, who heads a multiagency and multi-state mining scam clearinghouse called “Project Goldbrick.” He also told us that during 1988 and 1989, they have learned of over 100 suspected mining scams. While not all of these scams involve claims on federal land, many do and most of these have operations in Arizona, California, or Nevada. In 1989, these states had at least 21 cases under investigation or prosecu- tion, all of which involved claims on public land. Many scams follow a similar format. Investors are offered the opportu- nity to buy a specific amount of ore-bearing material at a set price under delayed delivery contracts, usually ranging from 6 months to 3 years. The operator is able to show investors that claims have already been staked on federal land-ostensively for the purpose of mining a valu- able mineral. The problem is that either the ore is never mined or the material mined is not valuable. As an example of the types of mining claim investment scams operating on federal land, Forest Service officials told us about an alleged scam operation in the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests in Arizona. In 1988, the operator filed 1,263 claims covering about 200,000 acres of w public land. The claim holder then began seeking money from investors through delayed delivery contracts to mine gold. However, the Forest Service independently sampled various claim sites in March 1989 and found only a common variety basaltic rock and cinder material. The Ari- zona Securities Division is investigating this operation because of con- cern that no gold is present. In January 1989, we visited 19 claims covering 365 acres in the Prescott National Forest in Arizona, which the Forest Service suspects may also be a scam operation. The operator was offering the public contracts for future gold deliveries from this gold mine. At the time of our visit, the operator had failed to make promised ore deliveries and, at least one state-Wisconsin-had prohibited the company from continuing to sell its stock in the state because it was an unregistered security. In addition to potentially defrauding investors, the operator created significant Page 30 GAO/ECELh~l 11 Unauthoriad Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix V Illegal Activities areas of surface disturbance and heavily damaged a riparian area.1 (See fig. V.1.) Figure V.l: Damaged Riparian Area on Forest Service Grazing Allotment in the Prescott National Forest, Arizona We also visited a site on BLM land near Lake Isabella, California, where the claim holder was under a securities investigation. The claim holder had allegedly misled the public into investing in gold which may not exist. At the time of our visit in February 1989, the site contained sev- eral unauthorized structures (see fig. V.2) and, according to BLM docu- ments, a criminal investigation was pending by the U.S. Postal Service *and the Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition, EPA and the county were investigating the storage of hazardous materials on the site. ‘Riparian areas are the narrow bands of green vegetation along the banks of rivers and strem and around springs, bogs, lakes, and ponds. Page 21 GAO/RCED2&lll Un~~~thorlzed Actlvitiea on Hardrock Cl&ma Appendix V Illegal Activities Figure V.2: Unauthorized Residences and Truck Scale on a Claim Near Lake Isabella, California, Pending Investigation as a Mining Scam .-,, c 1. .h i. _ . e a.- Page 32 GAO/RCEDgCLl 11 Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix V lllegd Activities In 1982 and again in 1984, we reported on the problem of marijuana Marijuana Cultivation cultivation on public land.’ Forest Service and BLSI officials told us that marijuana is being grown on mining claims in northern California as well as on other federal land. In addition to being illegal and unauthorized activities on mining claims, these operations can cause safety hazards because they are frequently guarded by armed men or booby traps. We visited two sites in California’s Klamath National Forest where in 1988, claim holders lived on the claims and the county sheriff found marijuana. We also visited a claim site on BLM-managed lands near Nevada City, California, that had been used for marijuana cultivation. During the visit, we observed a drip irrigation system and an observa- tion post in a tree over an underground marijuana drying shed. (See fig. V.3.) Figure V.3: Marijuana Observation Post . on a Claim Near Nevada City, California GAO/RCED-90-111 Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Some claim holders record claims but do not mine on them; rather, they profit by blocking an anticipated land use until a prospective user buys out their interest, probably for thousands of dollars more than the min- imal amounts they paid to record their claims. These claims are referred to as “nuisance claims.” Nuisance claims can impede government land transfers and cost the federal government substantial amounts of money to invalidate claims or buy out the claim holders. In addition, nuisance claims impede legitimate mining operations and other public land uses. A BLM official in Nevada told us that nuisance claims are a problem on a national level and a major problem in the Las Vegas area. Claim holders profit from such claims because interested parties know that it is both costly and time-consuming for the government to invali- date claims. Therefore, potential users will often buy out the claim holder rather than pursue the process required to invalidate the claim. The Department of Energy (DOE), in 1989, came to terms with a claim holder who was blocking construction of a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. DOE officials identified this location as a possible repository site in 1976, and since 1977, over 170 drill holes, trenches, and pits have been con- structed to obtain site-specific data. In August 1987, an individual filed 10 claims, and in 1988, he filed another 17 claims covering, in total, about 540 acres in the proposed repository area. After reviewing its options, DOE decided that rather than go through the lengthy mineral validation process, it was more expedient to buy out the claim holder, which it did for $249,500. . DOE's experience with nuisance claims at Yucca Mountain is not unique. Individuals can also find out about proposed land uses through agency planning actions or when such information otherwise becomes public. Others outside the federal government, such as municipalities, also are affected by nuisance claims. For example, the Congress passed legisla- tion giving the city of Mesquite, Nevada, the exclusive right to purchase a parcel of BLM land, subject to valid existing rights, at fair market value. However, before the act was signed, an individual located claims on about 600 acres of land that the town wanted to buy from BLM, effec- tively blocking the sale. The town paid the claim holder $10,000 to give up the mining rights to the claims, according to the city manager. Page 34 GAO/RCED9@111 Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix VII Unauthorized Activities continue Many of the currently known and suspected unauthorized activities on mining claims have been in existence for a long time, according to agency officials. Some of the sites we visited involve residences which have been in existence for more than 20 years-two for over 50 years, Our review of the mining law and agency regulations and policies, and our discussions with agency officials show that unauthorized activities on mining claims have grown over a long period of time, in part, because the Mining Law of 1872 was not specific in prohibiting nonmining activi- ties, and agencies did not have adequate surface management regula- tions. However, even after the development of surface management regulations, unauthorized activities persist. There is little in existing laws or regulations to deter claim holders from initiating unauthorized activities or to encourage them to promptly terminate such activities when discovered. The Mining Law of 1872 has several provisions that make management Legislation and difficult. The act provides that prospective claim holders can file a claim Regulations to Prevent and obtain ownership rights after discovering a valuable mineral Unauthorized deposit. However, from the time of the law’s enactment, BLM’S prede- cessor organization adopted the practice of local mining districts, which Activities Came Years did not require mineral discovery to precede filing a claim. In 19 19, the After Many Problems Supreme Court accepted this practice when it ruled that, in order to create valid rights or initiate a title against the United States under the Arose mining law, a discovery of minerals within the location is essential, but such discovery could precede or follow the filing of a claim.’ As a result of the court’s ruling, BLM’S predecessor formally adopted this interpreta- tion. The Mining Law of 1872 is also unique in that while other transfers ~ of interest in federal land require an overt act by the government, the mining law provides for the transfer of legal rights to a claim holder, provided certain requirements are met. These provisions make it easy for an individual to obtain a claim and difficult for the government to invalidate one. For the government to invalidate a claim for lack of discovery, it must establish a prima facia case that a discovery has not been made. The burden is on the govem- ment to conduct a mineral examination as the normal first step in estab- lishing this case. Once the government establishes its initial case, the miner then has the burden of proving, by a fair preponderance of the evidence, that he has made a discovery. The cases will be heard by an administrative law judge in Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. ‘Union Oil Company of California v. Smith, 249 U.S. 337 (1919). Page 35 GAO/XCJD9@111 Una~~thorhed Actlvitles on Hardrock Claims Appendix vu Unaathocized Activitie9 Continue Either party can appeal the judge’s decision to IBLA. Further appeals can be made to the Secretary of the Interior and to the federal courts. The mining law further complicated agency efforts to prevent new activities and eliminate existing unauthorized activities on claims by giving claim holders the right to occupy their claims, but it did not specify what types of occupancies were authorized. The Surface Resources Act of 1955 was the first legislative directive that specifically provided that mining claims shall not be used for any purpose other than prospecting, mining, or processing operations and uses reasonably incidental thereto. In 1968, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that a permanent resi- dence not reasonably related to mining is not justified.* Additionally, the court held that the United States could seek injunctive relief or damages in the US. district court for trespass against persons without first having to determine the validity of their mining claims. In 1985, IBM, in Bruce W. Crawford,3 helped clarify under what circum- stances occupancy was justified if there was some level of ongoing mining activity. This ruling provided BLM the basis for administratively resolving occupancy questions before Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. It was many years after the Surface Resources Act before the Forest Service and BLM implemented surface management regulations which can help ensure that claim holders do not initiate unauthorized activities on mining claims. The Forest Service, pursuant to its enabling legisla- c tion, implemented its surface management regulations (36 C.F.R. 228), which became effective in 1974. These regulations require that those proposing to mine and occupy mining claims fiie a notice or plan of oper- ations with the Forest Service describing the proposed mining operation and the related occupancy. A court decision in 1984 further strength- ened the regulations by establishing the precedent that fixed resi- dences-the most frequent occupancy problem-must be covered in a plan of operations.4 These plans require prior written approval from the Forest Service. %ited States v. Nogueira, 403 F. Zd 816,826, (9th Cir., 1968). 3Bruce W. Crawford et Ux. IBLA 83-861, (1986). 4United States v. Langley, 587 F. Supp. 1253 (E.D. Cal. 1984). Page 36 GAO/RCEDMblll Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix VU Unauthorlaed Actlvitiee Continue In 1981 BLM, pursuant to authority granted in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 USC. 1701, et seq.), established its surface management regulations (43 C.F.R. 3809). Similar to the Forest Service’s regulations, advance notice or approval of a plan of operations governing mining activities (and related occupancy) are required. Before October 1989, BLhl policy required that mining operations under a notice or operating plan-operations causing surface disturbance and certain other operations- be inspected at least annually. However, in October 1989, BLM headquarters issued instructions requiring that pro- ducing operations and nonproducing operations which cause any sur- face disturbance be inspected at least biannually. Forest Service regulations require inspections but leave it up to the various field offices to determine inspection frequency. The Surface Resources Act of 1955, which is key to preventing new Unauthorized Uses unauthorized uses, is also key to the agencies’ efforts to eliminate Persist existing no nmining activities. The act’s clear statement that activities unrelated to mining are not allowed gives the agencies a stronger basis for eliminating unauthorized activities. However, the procedures for demonstrating that activities are not justified are complex, time- consuming, and staff intensive, and the burden of demonstrating that activities are unauthorized rests with the federal government. The Forest Service told us that when mining operations are covered by a plan of operations, it is easier to eliminate activities not authorized by the plan. -Agency efforts to resolve unauthorized activities with a claim holder begin with a series of informal steps. These steps may drag on for years as agency staff make personal visits, write letters, make a formal deter- mination that the activity is unauthorized and obtain agency approval to contest the case. If the unauthorized activity cannot be resolved through these procedures, the agencies proceed to formal administrative and legal remedies. The agencies have attempted to terminate unauthorized activities which could not be informally resolved by proving that a valid mineral dis- covery had not been made and that the claims were, thus, invalid. How- ever, this procedure proved to be costly and time-consuming. For instance, a mineral examination must be conducted to determine the validity of a claim, and agency officials told us that these examinations Page 37 GAO/RCEDKblll Umthoclzed Activlliea on Hardrock Claima Appendix VU Unauthorized ActivitAes Continue usually cost the government about $10,000 in staff time alone. Typi- cally, it takes more than a year to conduct the necessary examinations and work through the appeal process which is often required to uphold the invalidation of a mining claim. In addition, BLM'S manual governing residential occupancy on mining claims notes that validity contests are generally ineffective and inappropriate in cases of unauthorized mining claim occupancy on land open to mineral entry because new mining claims may be located after a claim is held to be null and void. While the 1968 court ruling provided a remedy which does not require invalidating the claim, the remedy has major shortcomings because it requires cooperation from U.S. Attorneys, some of whom are reluctant to prosecute these cases because of higher priority work. In addition, according to a BLM official, the administrative approach will not be fully effective until a body of precedent develops to help determine when activities are unauthorized. Moreover, these cases can be appealed to the federal courts. Preventing New and BLM prevent or identify new unauthorized activities, the agencies Unauthorized Uses Is face major problems in implementing them. Their enforcement resources Difficult are spread thinly for managing the approximately 460 million acres they control. These BLM- and Forest Service-managed lands contain the vast majority of the approximately 1.2 million active claims, and in 1988, about 160,000 new claims were filed. Agency mining enforcement activities are carried out by relatively small staffs that have other .- duties as well. Although BLM anticipates some increase in staff as a result of new revenue from budget increases, the vast acreage of federal land and the large number of claims will continue to make enforcement under existing budget constraints difficult, if not impractical. The enforcement burden on agency staff is large because the law and regulations contain few self-policing controls. The mining law allows an individual to file a claim and obtain mineral rights without first proving that a valuable mineral deposit has actually been discovered. The cost of filing a claim is only $10, and the minimum yearly cost of maintaining a claim involves submitting an affidavit with a $5 fee certifying that at least $100 of development work was done for each claim. These require- ments make it easy and relatively cheap to obtain and hold a claim whether or not mining is being pursued. While no hard data exist, agency officials estimate that over 80 percent of currently recorded claims are not being actively explored, developed, or mined. Page 38 GAO/BCJD9@111 Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claim- Appendix VII Unaathorized Actlvltlea Continue With the limited self-policing requirements contained in the law and agency regulations, the agencies must rely on their inspection and enforcement activities to ensure that claim holders do not exceed approved activities. However, agency enforcement efforts are not fully effective. For example, BLM was not able to consistently meet the limited inspection requirements that existed before 1989. Further, RIJ officials in the three states covered in our review said they also will not be able to meet the more frequent inspection schedule in the new inspection requirement. Inspecting operations covered by notices and plans is necessary because several agency officials told us that claim holders sometimes build unau- thorized structures or exceed what is authorized in a plan. For example. a Forest Service official told us that one claim holder built a landing strip on his claim and the Forest Service did not know about it until a plane crashed. We saw other examples of unauthorized activities at sev- eral sites. For example, at one site on BLhi lands, the claim holder added an unauthorized truck scale to a claim that already had several unau- thorized residences and structures. At a site on Forest Semite lands. although the claim holder had submitted a plan, he built roads that ivere not authorized by the plan. Other problems exist where claim holders conduct operations on their claims without filing a notice or plan of operations. Not only are unau- thorized mining operations conducted, but nonmining operations may be ongoing. For example, at one of the sites we visited, the claim holder was operating a scrap metal and hazardous waste storage site without a -,plan. During his operation, he contaminated the soil with heavy metals. Page 39 GAO/WED-~111 Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims Appendix VIII Comments From the Department of the Interior Note: GAO comments ,, _ ,_ supplementing those In the report text appear at the end of this appendtx. United States Department of the Interior OFFICE OF THE SECRETARY WASHINGTON, D.C. 20240 Mr. James Duffus, III Director, Natural Resources Management Issues General Accounting Office Washington, D.C. 20548 Dear Mr. Duffus: Thank you for your letter of April 5, 1990, asking the Department of the Interior to comment on the draft report entitled, FedQFal . Q Clam (GAO/RCED-90-111). We have reviewed the report and our general comments are: Page 1 - The number of mining claims which have known or suspected See comment 1 unauthorized activities is cited as 1,600 of 662,000 mining claims. You may wish to put this number in perspective by pointing out that the 1,600 claims with unauthorized activity are less than one quarter of one percent (0.24 percent). Page 4 - The report recommended that the Secretary of the Interior See comment 2 adopt regulations implementing the criminal penalty authority contained in FLPMA. The Bureau of Land Management (BM) has such regulations in place at 43 CFR 9262.1. The regulations provide for pena&ties for unauthorized use, occupancy, or development of public lands. Formal comments prepared by BLM are enclosed for your incorporation into the GAO report. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Secreta & - Land and Minerals Management Enclosure Page40 GAO/RCEXMO-111 Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claims AppendirVIIl CommentaProm the Deputment Of the Interior Bureau of Land Management's Comments on General Accounting Office Report (GAO/RCED-90-111) BIONAL CONS- . ..ne believe that the Congress should con8ider replacing the $100 annual work requireaient with an annual holding fee that could be graduated over time, recogniaing that a balanoe mu8t be struck between an amount high enough to dhcourage penon not intent oa mining from filing sew alaim and keeping l xi8ting one8 and an amount low l nough to not diacouraga 8ariou8 niner8. The 1991 President's Budget, published on January 29, 1990, See comment 3. includes proposed appropriations language that would establish an annual holding fee of $100 for each unpatented mining claim located on public lands. This holding fee would be established in lieu of the assessment work requirement contained in the Mining Law of 1872, as amended (30 U.S.C. 28), and the filing requirements contained in Sec. 314(a) and (c) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1744). RECOMMENDATIONTO THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR We recommend that the Secretary of the Interior adopt regulations implementing the criminal penalty authority contained in FLPNA as a means to prwent or d8ter unauthorized activities on mining claims. The Bureau of Land Management did implement such regulations See comment 2 June 20, 1989, at 43 CFR 9262.1. These regulations provide for penalties for unauthorized use, occupancy, or development of public lands. Section 43 CFR 9262.1 reads as follows: Under section 303(a) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1733(a)) any person who knowingly and willfully violates the provisions of Sec. 2801.3(a), 2812.1-3, 2881.3, or 2920.1-2 (a) of this title by using public lands without the requisite authorization, may be tried before a United States magistrate and fined no more than $1,000 or imprisoned for no more than 12 months, or both. Page41 GAO/RCEDSOlllU~uthorizedA~vitl~onH~kC~ Appendix VIII Conunenm Prom the Deputment of the Interior The following are GAO’S comments on the Department of the Interior’s letter dated May 17, 1990. 1. We believe that the report provides adequate perspective by identi- GAO Comments fying the total number of claims and the number of known or suspected unauthorized activities associated with these claims. 2. The proposal in our draft report on criminal penalty authority has been deleted. 3. The report has been revised to reflect the proposal in the President’s fiscal year 1991 budget to establish an annual holding fee of $100. Page 42 GAO/IUXDWlll Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claixw Appendix IX Comments From the U.S. Department of Agriculture Note, GAO comments supplementing those In the report text appear at the end of this appendix. 14th & xndepe!ndQoe 91 201 14th street sv P.O. Box %o%l Washi%on, Df2M0906090 Reply To: 1420 Date: NAY 2 1990 Hr. John GI. Hat-man,Director Food and Agriculture Issues Resources, Cormunity, and Econanic Developacnt Division General Accounting Office Washington D.C. 20548 Dear Hr. Harman: We have reviewed the draft report r * I m, RED-9C-111. We believe that the report does an excellent job of accurately describing the types and consequences of unauthorized residences, nonmlning cOmnerCia1 ventures, and in some cases, illegal or speculative activities on mining claims on National Forest System lands. We have the following comments on the section “Results in Brief”: Our experience is that m additional unauthorized use is not an See comment 1. unduly expensive or ccmplicated process as implied under the third finding on page 2. If our field personnel are present on-the-ground and interact periodically with a mining claimant, we are able to gain an understanding of the rights of both parties, and we can avoid unauthorized cccupancy or stop it at an early stage. This does require a coaxuitment by the (Ibvernmcnt to have a field force sufficient to monitor mining activity. We fully concur with the finding as it applies to existing and many times long-standing unauthorized activity. The responsibilities and authorities of the Secretary of Agriculture on See comment 2. National Forest System lands mrst be recognized. Therefore, we recommend that the Vkcretary of Agriculture” be included along with the “Secretary of the Interlor,n and Vongressn in the last paragraph of this section on page 2. We believe the report needs to clearly recognize that we can control future See comment 3. unauthorized use and eliminate existing unauthorized use by applying current laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. We say this while conceding the difficulty that we have eXpcrietn%?d in eliminating unauthorized use. This requires that we conxnit the legal and administrative personnel needed, and that we maintain frequent contact with the mining claimant at the field level. P8ge 43 GAO/RCEDB@lll Unauthorized Activities on Ihrdmck CZlaha Appendix M Commenta From the U9. Department 0fAgTicuiture r Mr. John W. Hannan, Dlrector 2 In fact, if there is lack of couxnltment to either requirement, any other chenges will likely not succeed. Our ctmnents on changes proposed by the report are made in the context of the following: 1) Unauthorized residence is the rrajor unresolved mining claim use issue on National Forest System lands. Most other unauthorized uses of mining claims such as “illegal activitiesn occur in conjunction with unauthorrzed residences . 2) In our efforts to remove unauthorized residences, we have scrupulously: (a) sought input from literally everyone with any possible interest including elected and appointed officials at all levels, the claimant, mining interests, and the public; (b) looked at the possible legal alternatives; and (c) followed both the intent and rquiranents of the applicable laws. We also believe we have been both compassionate and patient. Adequate time has been allowed for the people involved to relocate, and in soau? cases of extrema personal hardship, we have authorized sane residential occupancy through special-use permits. Despite this, we end up with wtional conflicts that generate unfavorable publicity uhereby many public officials ask for more time or new, or different solutions. These add to, and significantly increase the time and energy already spent in reaching what we consider to be a legally correct, but compassionate and fair decision. In context with the above and the information presented in the report, we believe the following points should be incorporated into recommendedcnanges and other report sections: 1) We need a declaration of policy from Congress that it clearly intends See comment 3. for unauthorized uses to be eliminated from public lands, and that it will support the agencies efforts to accomplish this. The policy should also include a statement to the effect that residential occupancy is not a normal rquirawnt for mining activity under the 1872 Hining Laws. This c could easily be expressed in an amendmentto the Surface Use Act of 1955. 2) Simplify saae of the Government’s procedures involving claim contests See comment 3. with the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA). Based upon Current practice, It is necessary for the Bureeu of Land Management (BLM) to review and approve work done by certified Forest Service Mineral Examiners and Certified Review Examiners, both of which are highly experienced and trained at the BLM Phoenix Training Center. The legal basis for this needs to be reviewed, and if it can be eliminated by administration action, it should be. If not, Congress should give the Forest Service the necessary legal authority to avoid the BLM review and go directly to the OH4. 3) Agencies need to revise their existing regulations to include stronger See comment 3. language involving unauthorized use. It is iuperative that revised regulations clearly state that: (a) residency and nonmining corfxnercial Page 44 GAO/lKEDWlll U~nthorizd Activitlem on Hardrock Claim Commenta From the US. Jh9partment 0fAgricuitwe tD Mr. John W. Herman, Director uses are normelly not authorized, and (b) the burden of proof to ? demonstrate that residency is rquired is upon the claimant. With the developed transportation system for most areas, there is alrmst no need for residency in connection with mlnlng activity. Reaote nonroadq areas like perts of Alaska could be the exception. 4) Eliminate the imposition of higher fees. We do not believe this will See comment 4 prove effective in eliminating the problems, and this could have adverse effeots on mineral development, particularly for smaller mining co-nits. The isPosition of higher fees will definitely not have much effeot on mining ralatad scams. Those who intend to run a scam and defraud the public can easily afford higher fees, uhlle the legitimate miner could not. The proposed changes will not be effective if there is no support for an effective on-the-ground work force that can interact with a mining claimant on a one-to-one basis. These constitute our major points of concern. San minor points and technical corrections are included in the enclosure. Thank you for the opportunity to coament on the draft report. If you have any questions on our cements, please contact Sam Hot&kiss at 453-8235. Sincerely, , EnoloLure P8ge 46 GAO/lKXIM@lll Unauthorized Activ-itiea on Hardrock Claims Appendix M Comment8 From the US. Department 0fAgritnlture ADDITIONAL COMENTS Paso 3, Paragraph 1 - So long as the landr are open to mineral exploration, the claimants need no federel l ctlon to obtain the full legel rights to their claims. CCmENT: The referenced statement is not accurate. There are vary well See comment 2 established legel requirements which cost considerable money that must be completed to gain full legal rights. We also do not agree that the number of mining claims filed in 1988 roflactr that the self-initiating character of the mining laws is problematic. The number of mining clalme filed in 1988 is Iergely reflectiva of today’s mineral veluae. Wa recommend that the material relating to those two polntr be deleted. Page 3. Pare8raph 1 - Although tha purpose of this l nnual work requirement ie to encourage mineral development, we reported in March 1989 that much of the wrk dona or certified to have bean done by claim holderr to meet the ennual work requiremantr had not brought the claim en7 cloeer Uo development, end the requirement Le difficult for federel lend managing l gencles to enforcs. COMMENT: The courta have recognized that thb annual assessment requirement See comment 5 serves both the purpose of promoting diligent development of mining claima and the purpoee of ensuring that mining claims are held in good feith. These purposes are not necessarily coextensive and should not be so. Othawlse mlnlng claima might be relinquished because of temporary fluctuations in mineral values. We recosssend that the report discuss the effectiveness of the annual assessment requirement in light of both of its recognized purposes. Page 3, Paragreph 2 - Because mining operations may range from multi-mlllfon doller endeavors to ror~ llmlted pick end shovel vork. the determination of vbat constitutes “incidental to mining” can be difficult at times. COMMENT: We agree that the determination of what constitutes an activity See comments 2 and 6. incldantal to mining can be difficult at times. However, an important fact to remember is that any significant surface disturbing activity on National Forest System land. regardless of whether or not the activity is incidental to mining, must be approved by the Forest Service. If an activity incidental to mining which causas significant surface resource disturbance is not approved, thsn it is not authorized. The courts have generally used a low threshold in deciding whether or not surface disturbing activities are significant for the purpose of requiring that chore activities be approved by the Forest Service. For example, the courts have held that the maintenance of residential stactures on mining claims causes significant surface resource disturbance. Page 4, Paragraph 2 - In the Forest Service, eha lack of penalty euthorlty In the mining laws is mitigated to soma extent by l ganaral criminal penalty authority within its reguletlons governing prohibited l ctione in national forests. COIimNT : The crlmlnal penalty authority for unauthorized uses on National See comment 7 Forest System lands is quite clear. Authority to impose criminal penalties is provided by 16 U.S.C. 551 The Forest Service regulations implementing that Page 46 GAO/BCEDSSlll Unauthorized Activities on Hardrock Claim AppendlrM Commen~FromtheUS.Department ofAgriculture authority art net forth at 36 CFR Part 261. The ptnalcies that can be imposed art described by 36 CW 261.lb. while the unauthorized actions for which such penalties may bo impostd are set forth at 36 CFR 261.10. The maximum penalty allovable is rarely lmpostd by the courts who tend to provide miners an opportunity to bring their conduct into compliance vlth pertfnenc Forest Se~lct regulations in lieu of being criminally fined or incarcerated. Therefore, vt vould like to see the folloving more accurate language be included in your final report: 'The Fortsc Service has regularions which provide the agency full authority to levy criminal penalties for unauthorized uses of National Forest System lands, even though there is a lack of penalty l uthorfty in the mining 1~s." Page 4, Paragraph * - These claim holders.. .pey little or no real-estate taxes. coNMNT: This fa not a Federal matter, and generally is not true. See comment 8 Real-estate tax.8 by local officials art not restricted in any way. County officials comnly tsx prlvaeely owned facilities on Federal land. This language should be de1ot.J. Page 12, Paragraph 2 - So long as cho lands are open to mineral exploration the federal govtnmtnt her no dfscrotion about granting the claimants their full logal riphta to the claim. See comment 2 COMMENT: The first response made for page 3, paragraph 1 is applicable. Page 37, Paragraph 1 - There is lfttle in existing lavs or regulations to dottr claimants from initfatfng unauthorirtd activities or encourage them to promptly terminate such l ctiviftits vhtn discovered. See comment 9 connENT : The response made for page 4, paragraph 2 is applicable. Page 38, Paragraph 2 - The Forest StrPieo ca*ta have tvo lntra-*gamy l dm.lnistrat:vta-1 ltrtls btlond tht initial field office decision before the ctst can bt apptalod to tht courts. coNl4ENT: This stnttnct does not belong in a paragraph having to do with the See comment 2 procedures that muse bt follovtd for the government to invalidate a mining claim on which a discovery has not been made. The Forest Service adminrstrativt appeal procedure is used in connection with decisions about the approval of activities on mining claims, not in connection with decisions about vhtthtr t discovery has been made on a claim. Also, revisions were made in cho Forest Strict admlnlstra~ivo appeal regulations approximately 18 montha ago vhfch providt that many docislons relating to the regulation of actlvftlts on mining claims art subject to only one level of adminisrracive review. For rhtse reasona, ve recommend that this sentence be deleted. Page 40. Paragraph 3 - Bu+ tht procedurea for demonstrating that activities art no+ justified art COmpltx, tlmo consuming, and staff intanafvt. and the burden of dtmonwratiag t’at activities are unauthorisod rests with cht fodtral govtrnmtnt. See comment 2. : The response COMMENT madt for Page 3, Paragraph 2 Is applicable. Page47 GAO/RCED9@l11UnauthorizedActivitieson HanirockClaims - Appendix LX Commenta FYom the US. Department 0fAgricultnre Pago 41, Ptragraph 2 - Unltrs the land bar bean vithdravn from mineral entry tha claimant can rm-filt the claim and tht whole fmalfdation proctss vould ban to sear+ ovar. COhnaNT: Once a mining claim hss been doclarrd invalid, tht govornmtnt may bring an action in fedora1 court soaking rho tjtc~tnc of persons who wart conducting unauthoriztd actfvitit8 on mining claims and an order requiring the See comment 2. rtmoval of ttructuros and improvements from rho invalidaced claim. The face that a mining claimant ro-files the claim has not barrod the successful prosecution of such actions. Normally, the insCltutfon of such proceedings is not necessary to obtain the abactmtnt of unauthoriztd uses as mining claimants typfcally art cooperative once chair claims art dtclartd fnvalid. Thus, the tht implication that a claimant's ability to ro-fflt a mining claim prtvtncs the govtrnmant from resolving unauthorized use of mining claims ft not accurate. Thtrtfort. vt recommend that this sentence bs dtltttd. Page 02, Paragraph 2 - Tbo mining lav allow claimtnes to file a claim and See comment 10 obtain mineral rightr vichout first proving elur a vtluablt mintral deposit haa l cruslly bttn discovtrod. COMMENT: This staIxmtnt Cs misleading. The rights of the miner art very limited until it LJ proven a valuable mineral deposit txists. The early rlghc gtintd fs mortly protocrion from other miners. c Page48 GAO/RCED4&lllUnamtborizedActivities onHardrockCh.im~ Appendix Lx Canmentd From the US. Department 0fAgrlculture The following are GAO'S comments on the Department of Agriculture’s letter dated May 2, 1990. 1. The Forest Service does not believe that preventing additional unau- GAO Comments thorized activities is an unduly expensive or complicated process if there is support for an effective work force in the field that can periodi- cally interact with mining claim holders. While it may be possible to pre- vent additional unauthorized activities with an effective work force in the field, our concern is that with current budget restrictions and the sheer number of mining claims spread over the approximately 460 mil- lion acres which BLM and the Forest Service manage, it is unlikely that the land-managing agencies will be able to provide the needed interac- tion with claim holders to prevent unauthorized activities. We therefore are recommending that the Congress amend the Mining Law of 1872 to provide a less staff-intensive, more readily enforceable alternative-a graduated holding fee which could discourage unauthorized activities. 2. Clarifications have been made to the text of the report. 3. The Forest Service commented that our report should recognize that it can prevent future unauthorized activities and eliminate existing ones by applying current laws, regulations, policies, and procedures although it acknowledges that this has been difficult. Our report recognizes that current law specifically provides that mining claims should not be used for unauthorized activities and that regulations establish procedures which enable the agencies to identify and eliminate unauthorized activi- ties. The Forest Service also pointed out that its task could be facilitated if the Congress declared that unauthorized activities should be elimi- nated from public lands and amended the Surface Use Act of 1955 to clearly state that residential occupancy is not a normal requirement for mining, and that both BLM and the Forest Service revise their regula- tions. Because we believe that existing law already prohibits unautho- rized activities, we sought solutions which could discourage new or continued unauthorized activities. We agree with the Forest Service that the federal land-managing agencies should revise their regulations to clearly state that residency and nonmining commercial activities are normally not authorized, thereby shifting the burden of proof to the claim holders to show that activities are incidental to mining. We also believe that the complexity and time-consuming nature of the existing process for invalidating claims suggest that the agencies should jointly review existing procedures that could make the process for eliminating unauthorized activities more efficient. Page 49 GAO/RCED-Wlll Unauthorized Actlvlties on Hardrock Clahu Appendix IX Chnmenta From the U.S. Depnrtment ofAgricu.lture 4. The Forest Service disagreed with our recommendation that the Con- gress replace the annual work requirement with a holding fee, noting that such a fee will not prevent unauthorized activities and could adversely affect mineral development, particularly for smaller compa- nies While we agree that a holding fee may have little effect on illegal mining-related scam operations for which there are other legal remedies we believe such a holding fee can help prevent or terminate other unau- thorized activities such as unauthorized residences, which the Forest Service notes is the major unresolved mining claim activity on National Forest System lands. We belie7’ 1 -he holding fee would be effective in preventing and eliminating ur ‘. .;+rized activities because it would increase the cost of holding c....:“‘- I cost which is now minimal, particu- larly where claim holders do noi actually meet the annual work require- ment. Preventing or eliminating unauthorized residences would have a widespread impact because the Forest Service points out that most other unauthorized activities on mining claims occur in conjunction with unauthorized residences. In setting the amount of the holding fee, we recognize that a balance must be struck between an amount high enough to discourage persons not intent on mining from filing new claims and retaining existing ones, and an amount low enough not to discourage legitimate miners. 5. The report has been changed to show that the annual work require- ment can also help ensure that claims are held in good faith. However, the effectiveness of the annual work requirement as an assurance that claims are held in good faith is limited to the extent to which claim holders actually perform the work. c 6. We believe that the report fairly deals with the thrust of the Forest Service’s comment that it has approval authority for activities that would cause significant surface disturbance on its lands. Specifically, the report notes that the Forest Service has regulations which allow it tc! identify and approve or reject proposed activities on mining claims. 7. The reference to penalty authority has been deleted. 8. The reference to real estate taxes has been deleted. 9. In response to our statement that there is little to deter claim holders from initiating unauthorized activities, or to encourage them to termi- nate such activities, the Forest Service commented that it has criminal penalty authority even though such penalty authority in the mining law P8ge 60 GAO/lK%MXbl 11 Unaathorhd Activities on Hardrock Claim Appendix Ix Comments Prom the US. Department of.4grhllture is lacking. However, the Forest Service points out that its maximum pen- alty of $500 or imprisonment for not more than 6 months is rarely imposed by the courts, which tend to provide miners the opportunity to bring their conduct into compliance with pertinent Forest Service regu- lations. Accordingly, we continue to believe that there is little deterrent to unauthorized activities on mining claims. 10. According to the Forest Service, our statement that claim holders can file a claim and obtain mineral rights without first proving that a valuable mineral deposit exists is misleading. We do not believe this statement is misleading because once a claim is filed, claim holders have the right to explore, mine, sell the minerals contained on the claim, and sell their rights to the claim. In addition, the courts have held that claim holders, prior to discovery, have legal rights in the claim that the gov- ernment cannot abrogate without due process. We believe that this pro- vides claim holders, even those who have not proven discovery, with substantial rights in their claims. Page 61 GAO/BCEM&lll Unaathorired Activities on Hardrock Clalma Appendix X Major Contributors to This Report Robert W. Wilson, Assistant Director Resources, Robert Cronin, Assignment Manager Community, and Economic Development Division, Washington, D.C. Jeff H. Eichner, Jr., Regional Management Representative San Francisco D. Patrick Dunphy, Evaluator-in-Charge Regional Office Thomas G. Cox, Site Senior Kathryn Rose, Evaluator c (140246) Page 62 GAO/BCED@@lll Unaathorized Activities on Hardrock Chin Requests for copies of GAO reports should be sent to: U.S. General Accounting Office Post Office Box 6015 Gaithersburg, Maryland 20877 Telephone 202-275-624 1 The first five copies of each report are free. Additional copies are $2.00 each. 4~ There is a 259, discount on orders for 100 or more copies mailed to a -single address. 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Federal Land Management: Unauthorized Activities Occurring on Hardrock Mining Claims
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-08-17.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)