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Wilderness Soc'y v. Dombeck

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20648
Nos. No. 97-35954, 168 F.3d 367/(9th Cir., 02/16/1999)

The court upholds the U.S. Forest Service's decision to validate a mineral company's mining claims in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area in Montana. The claims at issue were relocated claims that overlapped with two previously discovered company claims. The court first holds that the claims are valid under state law. There is nothing in Montana law or federal law that required the company to abandon its previous claims at the time of relocation. Also, there is nothing in the Montana mining law that precludes a claim owner from positioning a discovery point for a relocated claim within the boundaries of that owner's original claim.

The court next holds that the Mining Law of 1872 did not remove extralateral rights from mining claims located within national forests. The language of the statute assumes that a mineral deposit already has been located within the public domain. Moreover, it is disingenuous to suppose that, in view of the importance of extralateral rights to mineral claims, Congress would exclude such rights from national forest mineral development without announcing an underlying policy or reasoning for the distinction. Further, the Forest Service Organic Act reopened national forests to mineral entry, and provided that lands in the national forests shall be subject to entry under existing mining law. Last, the court holds that there is substantial evidence to support the Forest Service's decision to validate the claims based on geologic inference and data discovered before the Wilderness Act's prohibition on mineral exploration in wilderness areas went into effect.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Todd D. True
Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund
705 Second Ave., Ste. 203, Seattle WA 98104
(206) 343-7340

Counsel for Defendants
Andrew C. Mergen
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Canby and Graber, JJ.