California Miners Battle Denial of Their Property Rights

  William Perry Pendley, President and Chief Operating Officer of Mountain States Legal Foundation

DENVER, CO. - Northern California miners who have been denied the right to conduct mining operations on their private property filed a lawsuit April 13 in California federal district court.  Ken McMaster, who along with two of his cousins, owns the Oro Grande mining claim within the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area in northern California, charges in a lawsuit that names the United States of American, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, and Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, that he has wrongfully been denied his full property rights and the right to use his property as permitted by law.  He argues that the United States has violated the General Mining Law of 1872, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the act creating the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area, and regulations and policies.  He asked the district court to issue a ruling that those laws have been violated and to quiet title to his property in his and his cousins' names.

"The United States government, two federal agencies, and scores of officials have violated the law in a disturbing fashion in their efforts to stop these hardworking Americans from doing what the law say they may do," said William Perry Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), which represents the miners.  "What an outrage!"

The Oro Grande claim is a 20-acre association placer claim located in the 1930s.  Between 1934 and 1953, the claim was relocated three times to clear up potential issues with ownership and/or the location.  In 1992, the Oro Grande claimants applied for a patent.  In 1993, the BLM issued the first half final certificate.  In October 2008, BLM issued a patent for the Oro Grande claim, which was later amended and reissued in February 2009.  Under the terms of the patent, BLM did not convey fee title to the property.  Instead, BLM conveyed only title to the "mineral deposits within association placer mining claim known as the Oro Grande Mining Claim," ostensibly due to the provisions set forth in the Wilderness Act of 1964.

Since Mr. McMaster received the patent, the Forest Service has asserted that he does not own the mining structures that are present on the claim, despite that they have been utilized in the mining operations since the claim was located.  The Forest Service now demands that he remove the structures and restore the surface of the patented claim and that he apply for and receive a special use permit before he would be "permitted" to continue mining operations on his patented claim.

Mr. McMaster claims that he should have been issued fee simple title to the Oro Grande claim and that the Forest Service may not deny him use of his private structures, which are reasonable and incident to mining.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, founded in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area.