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There’s a lot more to it than just staking a claim

Letter from Paul Martz

Mining – October 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

There’s a lot more to it than just staking a claim


I’m still trying to understand some of the points that Ken Wright was trying to make in the September edition of Colorado Central. I agree with, and certainly sympathize with, some of the things he says about the West and those of us who actually live and work here. I am further heartened to read that he is no longer a strict constructionist tree-hugger. However, his article repeats several distortions that the environmental movement promotes about the Mining Law of 1873, and I object to that.

Much is always made of the small fee to patent a mining claim. That is only the final step in a long and expensive process to remove it from the Public Domain and make it private property.

At one point, patenting a 160-acre farm had a fee of $1.25 per acre. The catch was that you had to both live on and work the land for five years in order to reach the point where you could pay the fee and take title to your homestead. There are similar, and vastly more expensive, procedures to follow to patent a mining claim. The anti-mining crowd always neglects to mention these, and Ken Wright does your readers a disservice by following in that tradition.

In the first place, you may only patent a mining claim that you can prove holds a valuable mineral deposit. You must first expend large amounts (frequently millions of dollars) just to get to the point that you can justify staking a claim. Since you won’t get the corporate bean-counters out on the field to do brunt work, people get paid to survey the lines and put in the posts, often carrying them significant distances up nice gentle Rocky Mountain slopes.

Then you get to geologically map the prospect and grid it with geochemical and geophysical surveys. After that you get to spend some real money and drill; all the while being closely supervised by real knowledgeable people in khaki uniforms.

Should you actually discover a commercial deposit and want to patent the ground, you next get to pay a U.S. Government Mineral Surveyor between 10 and 15 grand to survey each claim in accordance with very strict rules.

Once that’s been done, a government mineral analyst (typically a mining engineer) comes out and demands that you “prove” your claim to him. He may order you to drill a new $100,000 test hole under his control and supervision, or several of them for that matter, until he is convinced that technically you have indeed found what you claim to have. Then he proceeds with an economic analysis for which you also pay, and that analysis must prove that you can mine it at a profit.

Then and only then are you privileged enough to pay a few dollars per acre for the “patenting” fee. The resulting private and taxable property is hardly a giveaway to mining companies as is frequently charged, and I still can’t see where there’s a subsidy involved.

Now, consider that a hard-rock mining claim covers a maximum of 20 acres. Show where that few dollars of patent fee matters so much as a tinker’s dam, no matter how some politicians and environmental lobbyists rail against it.

It’s a lot like complaining that a grocery story only has to pay ten bucks a year to renew its sales tax license, and look at the highway traffic it produces!

Having spent all or parts of seven years overseas working for U.S. mining companies hoping to mine and profit in foreign countries, I hardly see the relevance of a Dutch mining company wanting to mine in the United States. Such a “threat” hardly justifies the President’s running roughshod over the Constitution and the people of the State of Utah to “protect” the Escalante area.

Paul Martz, Consulting Geologist Poncha Springs