Please excuse our absence, it’s been rather hectic lately with claims deadlines, deaths of personal friends, upcoming events and other personal issues.
That being said, we have had a number of calls lately about NOI’s and POO’s. We wanted to explain the difference between an NOI (Notice Of Intent) and a POO (Plan Of Operations…aptly named) with the United States Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as it pertains to mining claim operations. These are permits one fills out and sends to one of the agencies for a variety of mining operations on validly held mining claims.
Public lands where mining claims are, are generally managed by one of these agencies not both and maps can be found on our favorite site caltopo.com. Caltopo has a variety of options, sat imagery, road builders, topo and many other on a national scale (dont’ be dismayed by the name Cal, it’s not just California). Their site will also delineate National Forests and BLM boundaries with either green for USFS or light brown for BLM.
Both agencies are “management agencies” and we like to remind folks not to call public lands “USFS land or BLM land”. They don’t own the lands, they manage your public lands for you as they are yours, not theirs.
First of all, let’s go back about 15 years and many operations on a small scale never qualified for either of these permits. POO’s allowed for mining about 5 acres of disturbance once approved and they were easy to get. With the change in political ideology and pressure from environmental groups (sue and settle mostly), the talk coming from both agencies now is that you need one of these permits for a lot of the operations we do on mining claims. The attitude is that the lands are theirs, not yours and they determine everything you do, control what you do and you have to ask permission to mine. This attitude does not make the permits a requirement, it is their ideology and the tough part is they know you’ll have to spend a ton of money to fight them in court while they use your own tax money to fight you to prove it.
This is why we are still laser focused on the accountability act we introduced right when c-o v-i-d broke out. With many employees in these agencies ignoring their own regulatory instruments and prohibiting mining, they know it’s difficult to get them fired so the behavior continues. We’ve managed to expose some of the worst employees of the USFS on really horrid behavior and the response by the USFS, in many cases was to transfer them to another state. That needs to change and the accountability act will do precisely that. When the Trump Administration passed the Veterans Administration Accountability Act several years ago, it truly helped to clean up the V.A. to a large degree. We all remember images on TV of the heads of the V.A. sitting in hot tubs in Vegas drinking champagne on our dime and the horrible treatment of the vets at the hospitals. The Act essentially states if you work there, mistreat vets, spend the tax payer money frivilously and other illegal, immoral acts or violate someone’s civil rights, you’re fired and you lose your pension. We’ve heard they fired 4600 employees shortly after the Act was passed. Our Act is the very similar…but with USFS and BLM inserted where the V.A. was written. We likely could have passed this if Nancy Pelosi didn’t shut down Washington DC 4 days before we were to fly there to have meetings with Senators and Congressmen about this very act. That was in February of 2020 and they didn’t open up D.C. again during the Trump Administration for us to pursue it further…….shocker right?
Back to the NOI and POO: As you can see in the screen shot below, it is the miner who determines this, not either agency unless you are unsure and ask them…..then they will always tell you that you need a permit in our experience.
This has gotten so bad in some areas like Montana, pockets of Idaho and Colorado that we’ve heard stories about USFS telling miners a POO is required to dig a hole with a shovel or even access their claim. This is a fundamental a violation of your granted mining rights to say a permit is required to dig a hole with a shovel. One cannot create a “significant disturbance” with hand tools and has already been litigated. Access is also a granted right and both agencies are required to grant you access or provide reasonable alternatives to access. It is unreasonable to close a road to your claim and tell you that you now need to carry your 300lbs of equipment a mile, or even 200 yards to your mining claim if there was prior access which they closed. They also routinely violate the ADA, the American with Disabilites Act. Additionally, RS2477 (Revised Statute 2477) which is a subpart of the original mining grants also guarantees this access and even with the passage of FLPMA (Federal Lands Policy Management Act) in 1976, the act clearly states you have that right of access. Roads in the public domain (public lands) which were created prior to the passage of FLPMA in October of 1976 are required to remain open. It’s not for debate.
Let’s say you plan to run a small trommel you can carry and plan to run it along a creek in Montana on your valid mining claim.
Do you need an NOI or POO?
No. Hand tool operations do not need either permit.
If you do not believe your operation will cause a “significant disturbance” an NOI or POO is not required. Again, it is the miner who makes that determination. The term “significant disturbance” is vague, and that has been the main problem for many years. It is not clearly defined and miners may consider using a tow-behind little Harbor Freight backhoe as a significant disturbance causing piece of equipment, but some over-zealous USFS agent may. There lies the problem.
If you’re unsure if it will, then an NOI would be the permit considered. By submitting an NOI, you are essentially saying to the USFS/BLM that you’re unsure and they will then evaluate your operation plan and make the determination. We’ve done both. An NOI could be something like road maintenance using equipment.
Let’s say you plan to run a 30,000 lb Cat 420 backhoe on your placer deposit and plan to dig 15′ deep holes. That would likely trigger a POO. You then submit your detailed mining plan, usiing their forms to whichever agency manages your piece of “real property” (because mining claims are in fact real property) and use the bond calculator to determine how much money you’ll have to pony up for reclamation. The reclamation is if either agency has to come in a reclaim the ground you disturbed because you failed to do so. It will also include costs if they have to remove any equipment in case it breaks down and you cannot remove it. There is a calculator on-line for determining this and it is not subjective…meaning the USFS or BLM can’t just pick a random price based on someone’s “feelings”. The calculator is a fill-in-the-blanks application and anyone can calculate the bond cost. We’ve seen bonds over 100k for large operations and bonds of a thousand dollars for small operations. Once the mining operation is complete, the reclamation is completed and signed off by either agency, you get your bond back.
Here’s a link to one in Arizona if you’d like to review this excel spreadsheet.
We had intended to write a short piece on this this morning and now, after two and a half hours…….you can see it is rather complex but important to know your rights on your claim and what is actually required. This post literally could turn into pages and pages of case history, links to mining grants etc…but this should provide you with much of the overall information about when and why these are required.
We hope you find this useful and remember, public lands are yours, not theirs.