A new law tucked away inside a vast budget bill would privatize millions of acres of public lands and allow mining and real estate development within national forests and parks.

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) wants to rewrite portions of the 1872 Mining Law to make it easier for mining corporations to lay claim to public lands—and to buy them.

The 1872 Mining Law was meant to "encourage" mining. Under its provisions, miners can stake a claim–the right to mine minerals– on public land. These claims can also be "patented," that is, bought outright from the federal government for, at most, $5 an acre.

In a 1993 case a Canadian company patented mineral rights worth millions for $10,000. This prompted Congress to place a moratorium on such purchases in 1994.

Pombo’s attempt to rewrite the 1872 law was inserted into the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (S. 1932/H.R. 4241), a must-pass budget bill. Pombo’s rewrite would end the moratorium and allow public lands to be patented for $1000 an acre, or market value, whichever is higher.

Any "valid, existing" mining claim on federal land, including inside national forests and parks, could be patented, as well as any public lands "not otherwise withdrawn." This could include (at the discretion of local forest managers) Wilderness Study Areas and roadless areas.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, 350 million acres of public land are open to mineral claims; these could be patented under Pombo’s proposal.

Patents on public lands could be granted for any use that would "facilitate sustainable economic development." Public lands could be claimed for mineral rights, patented, then developed with hotels, condos and ski resorts.

On Nov. 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the House’s version of the budget bill with the Pombo provisions intact. The Senate version of the bill does not contain similar provisions.

The next step is for the Senate and the House to sit in conference on the must-pass budget bill and work out a compromise.

Congress reconvenes on Dec. 5, although no date has been set for the budget reconciliation meeting.


Call or write your senators and representative and ask them to tell conferees in the reconciliation conference for the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (S. 1932/H.R. 4241) to strip out the mining law provisions inserted by Pombo. Tell them in your own words why we should not sell off our precious natural heritage to mining corporations and real estate developers.

Sen. Barbara Boxer
1700 Montgomery St., #240
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: (415) 403-0100
Fax: (415) 956-6701

United States Senate
112 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
(202) 224-3553

Sen. Dianne Feinstein
One Post St., #2450
San Francisco, CA 94104

United States Senate
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3841
Fax: (202) 228-3954

You can find contact information for your representative at: http://thomas.loc.gov/


Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places