For years, miners have been at odds with the Bureau of Land Managment and the United States Forest Service. Their policing of miner’s property ranges from hassling them by bombarding them with requests for NOI or POO, to complete reclamation and closure of their historical sites. It’s interesting to look back at these different agencies’ origins, and how their mission evolved to impeding mineral rights.


BLM History

The BLM can be traced back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. These were laws that allowed for the surveying and settlement of lands within the original 13 colonies as well as other land that the US would eventually acquire. The General Land Office was established in 1812, within the Department of Treasury, which oversaw the disposition of federal lands. Further expansion stimulated new laws, such as military bounties, grants for constructing roads, homesteading laws, the mining law of 1872, the desert land act of 1877, and the Timber and Stone Act of 1878. The Mining Laws of 1872 is the only one of those left untouched.

In the late 19th century, the United States began to shift how they handled land management, and pivoted away from settlement and more towards making land ownership public due to resource values.In the 20th century, congress gave the Executive branch authority to manage public lands. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 allowed for leasing, exploration, and production commodities, such as coal oil gas and sodium from public lands.  The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 gave the U.S. Grazing Service the authority to manage range lands.

In 1946, the Grazing Service merged with the General Land Office to form the BLM within the Department of the Interior. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 was enacted by congress. This introduced “multiple use” management, which was the management  of the various resources that are offered from public lands. So as time progressed, the BLM became more geared towards preserving public land and protecting its resources, heavily limiting mining activities.[1]

USFS History

The USFS originates back to when Dr. Franklin B Hough wanted to preserve forests after witnessing the exhaustion of timber supplies in some areas. Dr Hough was appointed by the government to study many industrial aspects of the forests. The Forest Reserve Act of 1891 gave the authorizing of creating forest reserves from public land, managed by Department of Interior. The Transfer Act of 1905 transferred the forest reserves from the general land office to the Bureau of Forestry, which then became the Forest Service.

Historically, one of their primary missions was the prevention and control of wildfires. the 1910 forest fires gave the department a new mission to protect reserves against wild fires. Forest fire protection became important during WWII. Smoky Bear was created in 1944 to promote fire prevention.

Their mission to preserve forests lead the government to start acquiring public land over the past century. In 1911, the Weeks Act allowed the authorizing for the government to purchase private lands for protection, expanding the national forest system in the eastern United States. In the 1920’s, recreation was being facilitated in national forests. Since more and more people had access to automobiles, hundreds of campgrounds were being developed. The General Land Exchange Act of 1922 allowed the secretary of Interior to obtain privately own land within forest boundaries.

Forest Service advocate Arthur H Carhart promoted leaving the areas intact primarily for the usage of recreation, opposed to resource development. In the 1930’s, undeveloped wilderness land was classified as primitive land. This would protect the land from any development.The Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 put an end to unregulated grazing on the national forests.

The Forest Service has done a lot in terms of preserving forests, controlling and preserving wildfires, and creating recreational facilities for the public. However, not unlike the BLM, their public land management has created conflict with small scale mining. In 1955, the Multiple-Use Mining Act required claimants to provide notice to do any extensive mining, which lead to the elimination of thousands of historical mining claims. Also, the 1960 Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act was the Forest Service’s first environmental protection law, in response to an overwhelming amount of timber being harvested from the national forests. The last 20 or so years their mission has focused more towards regulating land and resources,

Ecosystem management, the driving force behind current policy of the Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, and other Interior agencies, combines philosophy, conservation, ecology, environmentalism, and politics…By the late 1980’s, many researchers and public land managers were convinced that an ecosystem approach to manage public lands was the only logical way to proceed in the future…Ecosystem management is not just a timber sale; it’s putting the timber sale into a bigger picture, including the watersheds, wildlife, roads, and people’s needs and values… [2]


History of Land Enforcement

Land enforcement goes back to Jefferson’s presidency, when people would jump to unsettled lands prior to it being properly surveyed. So for the purpose of orderly settlement, Jefferson assigned the military to protect the land by removing, fining, or imprisoning trespassers. The Timber Trespass Act of 1832 was enacted in a response to oak trees designated for ship building suddenly vanishing. So the GLO hired enforcement agents to protect federal resources. By 1882, a law enforcement division was created, that staffed 70 agents.

By the 20th century, as more land was being reserved to protect resources, watersheds, and wildlife, the enforcement responsibilities were transferred to Department of Interior’s Division of Investigation. This  continued until WWII, when the enforcement agents lost their authority, and transferred back to GLO in 1942.

In 1971, in response to wild horses being slaughtered, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act gave any employee of the BLM authority to arrest anyone violating that law’s provisions. In 1974, the BLM formed a law enforcement program. The 1978 Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 allows the enforcement officers to make arrest for land fraud, timber and mineral theft.

FS enforcement officers have been around since the first forest preserve in 1891. A ranger service was established in 1893 by the General Land Office and again by the USFS in 1905. The Organic Act of 1897 provided protection and management of the new forest reserves.

In historical context, the enforcement of laws that regulate public land were originally there to create order during settlements while the country was still expanding, as well as to protect necessary resources. As time progressed, the BLM was less concerned about land surveying and settlement, and more towards public land protection. Nowadays, agents from either department use their power to impede and obstruct small scale miners. Their Abandon Mine programs are driven to close as many historical mines as possible. [3][4]

GRE and Your Legal Rights

Here at GRE, we know the mining laws better than anyone else, and we have the best mining attorney on retainer. We’ve had experiences dealing with these agencies, with plenty of success stories. Don’t let these guys intimidate you, if you’re in a bind, give us a call at (385) 218-2138. We’ll be happy to lend our support!

GLO records office

Family settling on their claim provided by homesteading laws

Early BLM logo

Mine being closed by the BLM

Gifford Pinchot, first head of the USFS, with president Theodore Roosevelt

Early Forest Ranger surveying

Early fire prevention campaign poster of Smokey Bear

The USFS closing a mine’s adit

Park Ranger badge

BLM law enforcement officers

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