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Can You Keep Gold Found On Public Land?

rock collecting on public land

There are millions of acres of public land in the U.S. where gold may be openly panned or dug. The rockhound may keep any findings obtained during these outings. Many collectors use these nuggets as a buffer against future financial needs. No taxes need to be paid until the gold is sold. So collecting gold in this way is fairly hassle-free for hobbyists.

In order to avoid any legal hassles, there are several questions to ask before deciding on a gold-collecting expedition. You’ll need to know where you can and cannot mine and what kind of equipment is allowed there. You’ll also want to verify any daily limits to your collecting.

Can You Keep Gold Found On Public Land?

Yes. Generally speaking, you can keep gold that you find on public land. However, there are certain rules and regulations that determine how much you are allowed to keep. Familiarize yourself with these rules by visiting the Bureau of Land Management website for your state.

Places to Avoid

Private mining claims

Many of the areas most well-known for gold deposits already contain multiple legal claims as public mine operations. This doesn’t necessarily mean the individual owns the land itself, but they have filed a claim with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for exclusive mineral rights. You may not collect gold on these sites without permission.

Though these areas are off-limits to casual collectors, some mine owners allow visitors to participate for a fee. Taking gold from another person’s claim without the required permission may lead to prosecution and the confiscation of any ore that was found.

National monuments and parks

For the most part, nothing may be taken from any federally owned monuments, parks, or military-controlled properties. If you are unsure, you can check that particular park’s website or check with the local district ranger. National forests are a different matter. Some do allow limited rock hunting. Others have specifically designated areas for limited recreational panning and collecting.

Native American reservations

Native American tribes own the mineral rights on reservation land. Still, there are a few sites where limited collecting may be done for a fee. Research carefully before considering any gold hunting in these areas.

Any other private property

Always verify that you are rockhounding on public lands. If you see evidence of private possession, it’s best to leave immediately. Whether the owner of a property holds mineral rights or not, if the land you’re walking on is not your own, you may not enter without permission.

If you do obtain permission to search for gold on another person’s property, you cannot mine for gold as you would on other public lands. You would still need to obtain the necessary rights and permissions from the actual mineral rights owner before extracting any valuables, including gold. Make sure your agreement with all owners is in writing to prevent misunderstandings.

A Gold Miner’s Paradise

After the long list of don’t, I want to remind you about those millions of available acres mentioned before. The U.S. is a land of wealth and opportunity for those determined enough to search it out. You may begin your own search with your state and begin to work your way outward. There are actually very few states without some gold deposits.

Next, review the BLM rules and restrictions for your state. Panning may be allowed along many waterways, but often no sluicing or other larger equipment is allowed. There may be specific rules for using metal detectors in certain areas, especially where archeological artifacts may be buried.

The different national forests have their own rules and limits for the collection of gold or other minerals on their lands. Some charge fees for collecting. Others are free. It is expected that as little impact as possible will be made on lands intended to be enjoyed in their natural state.

Again, pans and shovels are generally allowed in public areas, and whatever you find is yours to keep free of charge. But if you decide to exchange or sell it, any applicable fees or taxes must be paid at that time.

If you should find what seems to be a large deposit in your search, you will need to go through the proper channels and procedures to claim it. These types of claims, sometimes called a “treasure trove,” exceed the BLM’s allowable limits. I’ve read some helpful advice about how to proceed in some collectors’ forums. Reading them will give you an idea of where to start when claiming a larger find.

One option for accessing a larger deposit is to file a mining claim through the BLM. This will allow you to bring in any necessary equipment to thoroughly excavate a claim and keep others from touching your find. Whatever you find will have to be appraised and appropriate taxes and fees paid. In the end, you can expect to keep a quarter or less of the actual value of your find for yourself. That’s important to know before making such a large financial investment.

Overall, the most appealing choice for most gold collecting hobbyists is the successful day trip. The treasures found during these outings belong to the one who possesses them and can be put aside without worrying about ownership questions. Many simply enjoy the thrill of holding those small gold nuggets in their hand and realizing the extra bit of financial independence it may bring in the future.

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