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Wilderness Policies and Mineral Potential on the Public Lands

L. Rex Short, Proceedings of 26th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1980)

As a general proposition, economic enterprise in the United States is based on a system in which property rights are owned by private parties. Historically, it has been government policy to manage the public lands by transferring to or otherwise creating rights in private claimants for the purposes of national development.1 In recent years, however, Congress and federal administrators have adopted policies which deny the effective use of important portions of the public lands for mineral development. This article is intended to deal with some of the effects on mineral exploration and development imposed by the legislation, regulations, and policies of the United States governing the publicly owned lands in the contiguous western United States, which are designated as wilderness [40] areas or committed to further study to determine their suitability for preservation as wilderness areas pursuant to either the Wilderness Act of 19642 or the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.3 Outdoor areas established and supervised by federal or state governments under other statutory authority are beyond the scope of this paper.4

Some activists in the movement for wilderness preservation would define wilderness to mean a sizeable region where the traces of man's presence are insignificant, and where only minimal contact with any influence of civilization is permitted.5 The