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According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, mining claims will continue to be allowed in Wilderness Areas until 1983. This, however, will not affect the lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that are not included in the Wilderness System.
We must not close off all of our public land to mineral exploration and mining; this would not be practical. However, lands with high recreational appeal and/or potential should not be cluttered with mining claims. The same reasoning applies to wildlife refuges. The Mining Law of 1872 is archaic. I hope your readers will join with me in writing our Congressmen in support of Morris Udall's bill to revise it.
As Gilbert pointed out, an annual expenditure of $100 (on valid exploration work) is required to hold each 20-acre mining claim. It is therefore prohibitively expensive to hold large numbers of claims for long periods of time, unless there is economic ore in the ground. Most companies will carry out the minimum amount of work (geological mapping, geophysical surveys, drilling, etc.) to prove or disprove an economic mineral deposit, and will relinquish their claims as soon as a negative test is made. Such preliminary exploration is not likely to despoil the areas.
Also, because of the extremely large investments necessary to initiate most mining operations, mining companies would not, as a normal practice, initiate production without first securing patents, which is not easy. Economic mineralization must first be proven, and economic mineral deposits are extremely rare.
In the rare instances when commercial mineral deposits are proven and patents secured there is undoubtedly some danger of environmental despoliation when actual exploitation is initiated. But even then the despoliation would be restricted to small areas since mineral deposits do not generally occupy vast areas. Furthermore, it has been my experience that most major mining concerns will do their best to preserve an area's ecological balance.
Concerning the use of claims for real-estate development or other devious purposes, there have undoubtedly been isolated cases of this type, but in the many thousands of mining claims I have examined throughout the Western U.S., I have never encountered one.
Mr. Gilbert did mention one interesting point, the fact that South American nations have been shutting off their mineral deposits to U.S. companies. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the U.S. is going to have to depend more and more on domestic supplies of metals as well as energy sources. I can say with authority that sufficient supplies of these critical materials are going to be extremely difficult to discover, and if we are prevented from developing our domestic mineral supplies, it will be impossible to maintain our civilization as we know it. In my opinion it is highly unlikely that a large population such as ours could survive in a primitive civilization.