Last week, the Bureau of Land Management released a series of recommendations to the organizers of the Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada, designed to address the annual event's economic and environmental impact on the Nevada desert.
At first, the Burning Man organizers raged, vowing not to take BLM's advice to heart — even though it seems they, themselves, solicited it — and refusing to adopt BLM's recommendations, which included drive-up dumpsters at the entrance and exit to the festival, a temporary fence around the festival to keep garbage and other debris from blowing off into the desert, improvements to the festival's water and sewage systems, and hiring independent security forces to keep Burning Man from becoming a target for terrorists.
Now, though, it seems Burning Man, which has been held in the same area of the Nevada desert since the mid-1980s, may be facing a crisis, and this year's event could be the last.
The Wall Street Journal reports that if Burning Man organizers are not able to reach a compromise with the Bureau of Land Management, their permit to hold the festival may be revoked since BLM controls the federal land on which the festival takes place and Burning Man is subject to their permit approval.
"If implemented, the measures would send the festival’s total expenses up nearly 60% from its current $38 million, said Marnee Benson, the festival’s associate director of government affairs," the WSJ reports. And Benson also notes that BLM's suggestions cut into the "free spirit" image of the festival.
“The vision the BLM has laid out for Burning Man is not the vision we would choose to produce," Benson told the outlet.
BLM discussed their proposed solutions in a community meeting with "burners" last week, but the open lines of communication didn't make the Burning Man attendees any more comfortable. The problem is, though, that while Burning Man may bring in millions to the local economy — there's only one town within reach and one road that can go to and from the "playa" where Burning Man is held — the locals aren't necessarily on the side of the 'burners," and they believe the festival isn't nearly as environmentally friendly as it believes, even if its motto is to "leave no trace."
“This town gets trashed,” one resident of Gerlach, Nevada told The Wall Street Journal, who suggested that Burning Man is out to make a buck for itself, even if it purports to be a utopian, if temporary, anti-capitalist paradise. “This is big money for Burning Man and they should be responsible.”
The festival has been in trouble before for its environmental impact, and residents of towns that line the road going in and out of the festival say the festival preserves its environmentally-friendly image not by putting its refuse in dumpsters far from festival grounds, but in residents' backyards. Burning Man admits that if it did have to haul away its own refuse, it could take more than 1,500 trucks to rid around 15,000 tons of yearly waste.
Burners also aren't happy that the BLM wants them to pay for upkeep on the road; they'd prefer taxpayers in the local area be responsible for maintaining the single highway across the Black Rock desert.
In a statement released just after BLM's report, the "burners" put it succinctly.
"We know of no other instance in the United States where a private entity is required by the federal government to pay for maintenance of a public county road that is also used year-round by residents, tourists, and businesses," they said. "Nevada and Washoe County include a gas tax allocated in part for road repair (which participants have contributed to for 29 years) and Burning Man Project is already working closely in collaboration with Washoe County to find a more permanent solution for CR34."
Burning Man could move. Before it relocated to the Nevada desert, it was held yearly in San Francisco, California. But that's not exactly in the greatest shape either. At least no one in San Fran, though, would notice the extra garbage.