A mining claim is a portion of land containing minerals which a miner has a right to occupy and possess for the purpose of extracting minerals. The Mining Law of 1872, which provides a statutory framework for the extraction of minerals on public lands, recognizes two types of property rights in mining claims: unpatented and patented.
As explained by the United States Court of Federal Claims, an unpatented mining claim vests in a claimant upon the discovery of a valuable mineral deposit and compliance with applicable regulations. A claimant with an unpatented mining claim enjoys an exclusive possessory right in the surface land and the underlying mineral deposits, but the United States retains fee title in the land.
A patented mining claim is one in which the government has passed its title to the claimant, giving them exclusive title to the locatable minerals, and, in most cases, the surface and all resources. The purpose of the General Mining Law of 1872 was to encourage mineral development on federal land. Thus, under the General Mining Law of 1872, miners can obtain a patent to their claim at a nominal cost ($5 an acre); however, since 1994 there has been a moratorium on applications for patents to mining claims.
[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]