Back to Publications

Defending a Mining Claim Contest

M. William Tilden, Proceedings of 25th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1979)

The relationship between the locator of a mining claim and the government is well stated in the following quote from a 1964 case decided in the Ninth Circuit:

The location of a mineral claim upon the public lands of the United States is, in effect, a unilateral act by the locator. It indicates that, in his opinion, there are minerals upon the land which are susceptible to profitable exploitation. That opinion may....upon examination by less optimistic persons, [be], regarded as ill-founded. If it is, the Government must have the right to clear the title and the right to the possession of its land from a useless and annoying encumbrance.1

When there is question as to the validity of a mining claim, the federal government, at its election, may proceed to clear title through the United States district court,2 or it may proceed in the administrative tribunal of the Department of the Interior.3 This paper will concern itself with the administrative method of clearing title, known as contest proceedings.4


The purpose of this paper is to follow the course of government contest proceedings from inception to appeal within the Department of the Interior, and finally to the district court. Throughout this discussion it must be remembered that the rights being discussed are statutory in nature. They are granted only when the statutory requiremen