Lands - Minerals, Mining and Geology


Our programs help facilitate the energy, mining and geologic activities that take place within your national forests and grassland. The goals of the Forest Service minerals and geology program are to:

  • Manage the vast and diverse mineral and energy resources of the national forests and grasslands in a fashion that ensures sustained ecosystems and maintains healthy watersheds;
  • Provide the geological expertise and scientific information necessary for sustained forest management and for watershed health and restoration;
  • Manage paleontological resources and geologic features on the forests and grasslands for present and future generations.
  • Restore ecosystems and watershed affected by past mining practices

Oil and Gas

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) does not lease oil and gas rights. That role is held by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). However, for all oil and gas exploration, development, production and reclamation activities/operations on National Forest System lands, the USFS is responsible for protecting the surface resources.

Prospecting and Mining

Many people are surprised to learn that mining takes place on National Forests and Grasslands. There are several laws that govern mineral resource management on public lands including: The General Mining Law of 1872, The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, and The Multiple Use Mining Act of 1955. These laws, and others, establish the authority of the USDA Forest Service to manage any surface disturbing activities on National Forest System lands. If you wish to prospect for mine for minerals, prior Forest Service authorization may be required.

A mining claim is not required to prospect for minerals. A mining claim is staked to establish the miner’s exclusive rights to a mineral deposit. State laws govern the staking requirements. The claim must be recorded at the county records office and the local Bureau of Land Management office. It is the individuals responsibility to check the county records to ensure that a claim hasn’t already by filed before beginning work. It is also important to note that some areas are withdrawn from mineral entry; these typically include Wilderness, developed recreation sites and administrative sites.  Please check with the local office for more information.

Gold Panning and Mineral Collecting

Gold panning is a common prospecting technique used to identify locations where gold dust and flakes have collected in stream sediments. Prospecting is the first step in locating a mineral deposit. Because this step usually entails collecting hand samples and mapping, and no mechanized equipment, is usually does not require a Plan of Operation.

Filing a Notice of Intent (NOI) will enable Ranger District personnel to verify that the area in which you plan to operate is open to mining (some lands are withdrawn from mineral entry). It is your responsibility to ensure that there is not a mining claim on the land on which you will be prospecting. This can be done by checking the Master Title Plat at your local BLM office or the records at the county courthouse. You do not need file a claim to prospect, but you cannot conduct any mining activity on another’s claim without permission.  More information can be found at the "Locatable Minerals and Mining Claims" website.

Mineral Specimen Collecting

This is the popular hobby of rockhounds. The collection of small specimens for personal use falls under the same category as prospecting and requires only a NOI be filed. If you intend to sell the specimens, you must talk to the district personnel to see if the level of activity requires a Plan of Operation or a Special Use Permit (SUP). A SUP may be obtained for a small quantity of material for a nominal fee. If the deposit is of sufficient size and economic value to be mined using mechanized equipment, a Plan of Operation must be filed.