Career “Burners” or Burning Man attendees are raging over a Bureau of Land Management environmental impact report that accuses Burning Man of being a major environmental nuisance, and requests the weeklong festival in the Nevada desert take major measures to control trash, drug use, and crowds before expanding to accommodate more attendees.
The report, released late last week, is more than 400 pages long and comes in response to a request from festival organizers to grow the event to 100,000 attendees by 2022.
In it, BLM accuses Burning Man of becoming lax in enforcing certain rules during the festival, and demands that Burning Man hire a security force to check vehicles entering and exiting the temporary “Black Rock City” where the festival is held for weapons, controlled substances, and other terror threats. It also demands that the “free spirits” of Burning Man pay for maintenance to a county road only they use, and that they bring in dumpsters so that attendees can dispose of trash in an environmentally safe way.
The report also says Burning Man will need to put a temporary barrier around the festival city to prevent objects from blowing off into the desert.
Burning Man oganizers and attendees are absolutely incensed at the thought of the Bureau of Land Management daring to question their “stellar” record of leaving the Black Rock Desert completely untouched. In a series of posts on websites like YourEDM and BoingBoing, attendees complained that BLM was being utterly unfair in cracking down on the week-long festival that prides itself on a “Leave No Trace” policy.
They also do not understand why they need to pay for road maintenance, terrorism control, and environmental impact abatement when Nevada state and county taxpayers aleady supply plenty of funds for playa protection and upkeep.
Organizers called the report “unreasonable,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
“Our initial assessment of the Draft EIS determined many of the measures recommended by BLM are unreasonable,” Burning Man staff said in a statement. “Some are in direct conflict with our community’s core principles and would forever negatively change the fabric of the Burning Man event.”
They found paying for upkeep of a road mainly used by Burning Man attendees particularly “brazen.”
“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. “INevada 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.”
The Bureau of Land Management, it appears, disagrees, and referred to the report not as a critical analysis of Burning Man operations but as a way to handle what they say are are ongoing problems with the festival.
The Reno Gazette-Journal, the paper local to the festival, supports the idea that there are, in fact, issues with the fest. Drug use is fairly common, sure, but a terror threat, the paper says, could result in a “mass casualty incident” that might be difficult for emergency personnel to address, since the only road in and out of the festival can sustain no more than 700 vehicles at one time.
Sexual assault at the festival is reportedly on the rise (though all organized sexual activity requires verbal consent to participate), as is air pollution and water use, liquid waste and sewage, and oil leaks. And then there’s the garbage.
A 2018 report from the Associated Press claims that despite the festival’s “Leave No Trace” policy, there’s plenty of evidence of Burning Man left after attendees depart. Last year, that debris even included a “a 747 airplane that was converted into a nightclub then left at the site for weeks.”
The debate over Burning Man’s future is ongoing. BLM is reportedly opening the issue to input from festival attendees and interested parties this week.