Lands are managed by the federal government (Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Indians), state government (School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration), and private owners (including local governments).
You may rockhound on most lands except National Parks, National Monuments, Indian Reservations, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, military reservations, reclamation projects, or any other withdrawn areas. Rock, mineral, and fossil collecting on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service requires a permit. Although collecting for personal use is allowed in most districts and permits are typically free, collecting rules vary. (Commercial collecting of fossils is not allowed). Most Forest Service land is open, except for vital watershed areas that affect a wide range of wildlife. Also, digging or constructing sluices or dams is not allowed in any National Forest. Special regulations or restrictions may apply for certain areas so check with your local Forest Service district.
Rockhounding on state or trust land may be permitted but usually requires a lease or permit. You need to contact the state offices that manage these lands in the state you are interested in. Rockhounding on valid mining claims should not be done without the claimant's consent. Also permission should always be obtained to rockhound on private land. Maps can be purchased at your local BLM office that will show you which lands are federal, state, or private land.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was founded in 1946. The BLM is responsible for carrying out a variety of programs for the management and conservation of resources on about 245 million surface acres, as well as 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate. These public lands make up about 13 percent of the total land surface of the United States and more than 40 percent of all land managed by the Federal government.
Rockhounding is a permitted recreational activity on most public land administered by the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Some lands are withdrawn or reserved for certain purposes such as national landmarks, outstanding natural areas, research areas, recreation sites, national historic sites, etc. Rockhounding is usually not permitted in these areas.
The BLM states the following rules: 1. The specimens are for personal use and are not collected for commercial purposes or bartered to commercial dealers. 2. You may collect reasonable amounts of specimens. In most states, BLM sets the "reasonable" limits for personal use as up to 25 pounds per day, plus one piece, with a total limit of 250 pounds per year. These limits are for mineral specimens, common invertebrate fossils, semiprecious gemstones, other rock, and petrified wood. 3. A group of people may not pool their yearly allotment to collect a piece larger than 250 pounds of either rockhounding specimens or petrified wood. 4. Collection may not occur in developed recreation sites or areas, unless designated as a rockhounding area by BLM. 5. Collection is not prohibited or restricted and posted. 6. Collection, excavation or removal are not aided with heavy equipment or explosives. Metal detectors are usually acceptable. 7. No undue or unnecessary degradation of the public lands occurs during the removal of rock, minerals, or gemstones. 8. For pieces heavier than 250 pounds or situation not covered here, please contact your local BLM office. 9. If you wish to obtain more than 250 lbs. of rock in a year, please visit the local BLM office to arrange to purchase it.
The Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 prohibits the excavation, taking, or destruction of any historic or prehistoric site or any object of antiquity on lands under federal jurisdiction. Vertebrate and other fossils of "recognized scientific interest" also are protected. The BLM requires permits for the collection of certain fossils. Permits are granted only to qualified institutions for bonafide scientific research and are not issued to casual recreationists, even though they may have an interest in fossils.
If you wish to collect for commercial purposes you must obtain permission, a permit or file a mining claim. The requirements for location of mining claims on public lands for commercial mineral development is contained in various Federal Regulations. Information can be obtained at any BLM office. BLM field offices maintain a record of locations of active and abandoned mining claims. One should never enter an abandoned mining claim as they can be very dangerous!