Burning Man is butting heads with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over new measures that festival organizers fear will change the face of the event forever. On March 15th, while seeking a new 10-year permit from the BLM to continue operations in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada (where the festival has been held annually for the past 29 years) The Burning Man project received a 372-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which would require them to take on significant new measures in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Changes include reducing of the amount of light pollution produced by the event at night, providing dumpsters inside Black Rock City along Gate Road, paying for the maintenance of County Road 34 (the sole road leading to the event’s entrance), and implementing BLM-approved private security to screen vehicles, participants, vendors, contractors, staff, and volunteers entering the playa for drugs or illegal weapons.
These are significant changes for a temporary city and conscious community that has acted with almost complete autonomy for decades. The Burn would essentially go from a government-free utopia to a government-administered party, in which permits could be pulled if the vast deserts of Nevada glowed too brightly at night. Unsurprisingly, Burning Man organizers believe that these changes might fundamentally shift the culture they’ve strived to create, and may eventually lead to the end of the event itself.
“The changes do not factor in our 28-year operational track record and commitment to environmental protection,” Burning Man’s leadership team wrote in a blog post. “Other changes rely on improbable or impossible conditions and many more lack sufficient data. Some of BLM’s proposals are in direct conflict with our community’s core principles and would forever negatively change the fabric of the Burning Man event, if not outright kill it.”
Burning Man organizers turned to the event’s community last month and urged Burners to contact the BLM and submit feedback while the draft EIS was still under consideration. While the window for public comment is now closed, it should be noted that the Bureau of Land Management takes public feedback very seriously in preparation of the final EIS, which is due later this summer.
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Unsurprisingly, considering the size and scope of the event itself, the situation demands nuance — there are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the debate. While the organization does a fantastic job of racing to self-correct when mistakes are made, the BLM has identified legitimate issues that the festival needs to mitigate. For instance, Burning Man prides itself in being one of the largest Leave No Trace events in the world — it’s in the event’s ethos that as a sign of respect to Black Rock City attendees clean up after themselves. While no one realistically expects everyone to comply, Burning Man has a pretty good track record on keeping the Black Rock desert clean.
The problem is that this commitment to waste disposal doesn’t seem to extend past the playa’s borders. Cities near the Burn have to deal with the fallout and have previously requested financial support for infrastructure needs after Burning Man ends each year.
“Take a drive around Reno in the days following Burning Man, and you will easily see illegally dumped trash just about everywhere,” Reno resident Garrett York told SF Gate in a report about Burning Man trash ending up in nearby cities. “It’ll be covered in playa dust.”