Monday is the deadline for people who own a few mining claims on public land to make sure the government knows they want to keep them. The paperwork is minimal and the $140 fee for maintaining a claim can even be waived.
Under a federal law that dates back to 1872, the rules for mining claims aren't that different for the lone prospector and the huge companies that extract millions of dollars' worth of minerals from public land. That bothers Tim Wagner with the Sierra Club, who says big corporations pay almost nothing for the minerals they extract.
"All they have to pay is $2.50 to $5.00 an acre to secure the rights to mine that particular mineral, whatever it is, whether it's gold, silver or whatever," Wagner says. "And then the company's basically free to go in terms of how much revenue they obtain off of that mining lease. And certainly, it is a gamble for anybody, whether it's a lone prospector or a major company."
A recent report from the Government Accountability Office says the federal government doesn't even know how much hard rock mines are producing from public land. Mining companies say the law is fine as it is, and they're providing employment and paying billions in taxes.