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Pathfinder Mines Corp. v. Clark

ELR Citation: 16 ELR 20091
Nos. No. CIV 84-105 PHX PGR, 620 F. Supp. 336/(D. Ariz., 10/01/1985)

The court upholds a decision of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) that held plaintiff's mining claims within the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve to be void because the land within the preserve had been withdrawn from mineral entry. After first holding that the standard for judicial review is the Administrative Procedure Act's arbitrary and capricious standard, the court rules that the Organic Act of 1897 establishing the national forest system did not automatically exclude mineral-bearing lands from forest reserves, but merely provided that such lands could be excluded if the Secretary of the Interior found that the land was better suited for mineral purposes. No portion of the Grand Canyon National Forest Reserve, from which the game preserve was created, was ever removed from the national forest system under this provision. The court rejects plaintiff's arguments that absent a specific prohibition, mineral entry within the game preserve is permitted because it was permitted within the forest reserve. First, the legislative history does not indicate to what extent Congress intended to open the forest reserves to mineral entry under the Organic Act, although it is clear that it did not intend for unlimited mining to take place. Second, the fact that mining may have been permitted while the land was a forest reserve does not mean that mining was permitted after Congress created the game preserve, an action that imposed additional use restrictions upon land already subject to some restrictions.

The court rules that the absence of an explicit provision withdrawing land from mineral entry in the Act authorizing the game preserve does not mean that the land is open to entry. The court first notes, as did the IBLA, that a number of decisions have held that land may be closed to mineral entry without the statute or order mentioning the mining laws; at least one case involved an Act creating a game sanctuary with language very similar to the Act creating the Grand Canyon Game Preserve. Although plaintiff cites situations in which Congress was quite explicit in stating that land was completely withdrawn from mineral entry, the IBLA's decision was not unreasonable in light of the case law. Nor is it unreasonable when one considers the purposes of the preserve. Mineral entry under the Mining Law of 1872 does not impose restrictions on the manner in which mining is conducted and results in eventual transfer of title from the government to the miner; it does not make sense for the government to set aside land for wildlife protection and then to allow the land to be alienated. Where mining has been permitted in game preserve, restrictions have been imposed; plaintiff's proposed entry is not accompanied by any such restrictions. The court also defers to the IBLA's evaluation of how the Department of the Interior applied the statute and proclamation, rejecting plaintiff's argument that the court should examine Interior's actions independently. Claims that had been allowed to be patented have since been reacquired by the Department, and although plaintiff presents some evidence indicating Interior believed the game preserve was open to mineral entry, defendants provided evidence indicating the opposite.

Counsel for Plaintiff
John C. Lacy
DeConcini, McDonald, Brammer, Yetwin & Lacy
240 N. Stone Ave., Tucson AZ 85701
(602) 623-3411

Counsel for Defendants
John R. Mayfield, Ass't U.S. Attorney
4000 U.S. Cthse., 230 N. First Ave., Phoenix AZ 85025
(602) 261-3011

Counsel for Defendant-Intervenors
Kimberly J. Graber
Snell & Wilmer
3100 Valley Bk. Ctr., Phoenix AZ 85073
(602) 257-7211