Back to Publications

Cohabitation of Wilderness and Mining: Can the Marriage Be Saved?

Steven P. Ruffatto, Carolyn S. Ostby, Proceedings of 38th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1992)

For more than a century, national laws and policies have promoted mineral development on public lands. For more than a century, national laws and policies have set aside segments of public lands for preservation in their natural state, precluding mineral activity. For more than a century, this nation has struggled to bring harmony to these conflicting goals. This paper explores one aspect of this conflict: the protection of [11-3] valid existing mining rights in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas.1

[1] Pre-1964 Wilderness Activity

Prior to the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964,2 federal legislation precluded mineral development on some public lands.3 The first congressional wilderness legislation was the Shipstead-Nolan Act of 1930,4 protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. That Act, like nearly all subsequent wilderness legislation, preserved valid private rights. It provided that the lands withdrawn were subject to prior existing legal rights initiated under the public land laws, so long as such claims are maintained as required by the applicable law or laws....5

Between 1930 and 1964, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS or Forest Service) administratively designated various undeveloped acreages as wilderness,wild,roadless, and primitive.6 None of these administrative designations, however, could prohibit mining in the ar