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Rockhounds fight for access to their jewel in the desert: Mojave Trails National Monument by Louis Sahagun


July 29, 2023 – Rockhounds fight for access to their jewel in the desert: Mojave Trails National Monument by Louis Sahagun. Photos: Irfan Khan. © 2023 Los Angeles Times.


You can be a week-end gem hunter says Federal Bureau of Mines


May 6, 1956 – You can be a week-end gem hunter, by Thomas H. Miller, Director, Federal Bureau of Mines. © 2023 Los Angeles Times. One of several articles that appeared in major newspapers in the 1950s courtesy of a federal effort to stoke public interest in hobby collecting.




Rockhounding: Front page LA Times, above the fold
July 29, 2023
by Lisbet Thoresen

Los Angeles Times staff writer Louis Sahagun wrote a feature story this past July on the potential demise of rockhounding in Mojave Trails National Monument (MTNM). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the monument’s 1.6 million acres, whose western boundary is located 45 miles east of Barstow and forms a keystone block of BLM-managed land surrounded by the Twentynine Palms U.S. Marine Corps base and other lands under federal management on three sides. Sahagun's front page article coincided with BLM officially commencing the drafting of a management plan, which will constrain what activities are permissible in the monument. A 60-day comment period inviting public input on what should go into the plan ended on July 5th.

Sahagun's story lays out in stark terms what rockhounds stand to lose, if BLM decides to define their hobby as mining instead of a recreational activity. Casual collecting, or rockhounding, in the United States dates back to the early 20th century. In the 1930s, '40s and '50s, the U.S. Bureau of Mines actively encouraged the hobby. The campaign proved wildly successful. Gem mineral societies like SDMG proliferated all over the country. In Southern California, it spawned generations of mineral enthusiasts who ventured into the dramatic desert landscape to explore its unique geology and thrill at discovering first hand its beautiful and varied minerals. Early life experiences that included going on field trips turned many young people into avid hobbyists. For others, it provided the catalyst that set them on career paths in the earth sciences including geology and mineralogy and also conservation.


US Tells Gem Hunters Leave No Stone Unturned


January 16, 1956 – US Tells Gem Hunters Leave No Stone Unturned. Source: © 2023 The New York Times.

The long tradition of casual collecting on BLM-managed lands may come to an end soon

BLM has begun work on drafting a monument management plan for Mojave Trails that will define permissible activities going forward. It appears that BLM is contemplating redefining casual collecting as mining, despite previously having defined it as a low-impact recreational activity. Accommodation of casual collecting and rules for it are enshrined under authority of several federal laws including but not limited to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1701, et seq.) and the Final Rule (2022) of the Paleontological Resources Act of 2009 (16 U.S.C. 470aaa et seq., see: 87 FR 47329). The relevant passages are recorded in Title 43 CFR including sec. 8365.1-5; Part 49, see especially 49.810 (What is Casual Collecting?).

In 2016, the largest land use plan amendment in California state history known as the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) gave rockhounds continued access to all the collecting areas they asked for in Southern California's deserts including in Mojave Trails. The California Energy Commission and BLM were co-administrators of DRECP. It is inexplicable that this long-range land use plan amendment would have validated rockhounding within the footprint of Mojave Trails only to have BLM reverse itself and forbid rockhounding a few years later when the agency finally drafted a management plan for the monument.

High public interest like that shown for DRECP may influence BLM's decision on Mojave Trails.[1] At 1.6 million acres, it is the third largest land-based national monument in the lower 48 states. It is also Southern California’s crown jewel of hobby collecting areas. If you care about the adverse precedent BLM could set in California and extend as a standard applicable to public lands nationwide, click and share the Los Angeles Times article and drop a note to the LA Times editor at:


Rockhounds are not asking BLM to create new rules.
The message to BLM about casual collecting
in Mojave Trails is simple:

We are asking BLM to write into the monument management plan its multiple-use mandate based on its previously defined rules for casual collecting under authority of existing laws and DRECP.



1. BLM-CEC received more than 12,000 letters on DRECP during the comment period ending February 23, 2015, with many coming from rockhound advocates. According to BLM’s Victoria Campbell, in a conference call on September 13, 2016 (the day before the Record of Decision on DRECP was signed), the many letters from rockhounds influenced the decision to give rockhounds every single accommodation they requested.

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Read SDMG's comment letter to the BLM on its management plan for Mojave Trails».


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Cite this article: L. Thoresen. 29 July 2023. Rockhounding: Front page LA Times, above the fold. San Diego Mineral & Gem Society, Inc. Available online at: or short URL: (Updated September 10, 2023.)



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