For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/.
Mining Operations Management
The General Mining Law of 1872 authorizes United States citizens to enter certain public domain lands (lands that have always been owned by the federal government) and stake an "unpatented mining claim" to "locatable" federal minerals. Locatable minerals include gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, cinnabar, tin, feldspar, uranium, antimony, bismuth, molybdenum, magnesium, nickel, tungsten, and talc. The unpatented mining claim entitles the holder to extract the locatable minerals from the claim in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.
The 1872 law also established a process for the holder to "patent" the claims, or obtain fee simple ownership of the surface lands and the underlying minerals.
Many units of the National Park System contain unpatented and/or patented mining claims, which were either located before the park was established, or when the park was open to the location of new claims. Today, no new mining claims may be located within a unit of the National Park System.
Mining operations on unpatented and patented claims can only take place in parks in accordance with an NPS permit and NPS regulations.
The term "nonfederal minerals" refers to all minerals, mineral materials (such as sand and gravel), and geothermal resources within park boundaries that are owned by nonfederal parties. This term does not include nonfederal oil and gas, or the minerals on patented mining claims (above). Usually, nonfederal minerals in parks are sand and gravel deposits.
In some cases, the nonfederal mineral owner owns both the surface land and the subsurface mineral estate. In others, the nonfederal mineral owner owns only the subsurface mineral estate, while the federal government owns the surface estate.
For information about the permitting requirements associated with nonfederal mineral operations in park units, see our permits page.
Last Updated: March 01, 2011