Thank You For Your Public Comments To The BLM!

At the end of April, we issued a Call To Action for our community to tell the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that we do not agree with proposed draconian stipulations that would allow the BLM to charge Burning Man even more money and also give law enforcement the unfettered discretion to evict participants from Black Rock City. In less than one week the Burning Man community rallied by sending at least 2,221 emails and 298 letters to the BLM voicing disagreement with the proposed stipulations. (The official number of emails and letters was probably even higher, but we are only able to count the letters and emails where participants also sent copies to Burning Man headquarters. We’ll get the official count from the BLM in the near future.) Thank-you all for the deluge of wonderful comments and support!

Burning Man representatives met with the BLM and the Pershing County Commission to discuss the county’s position about the proposed change in stipulations. The positive outcome was that Pershing County agreed with Burning Man that the BLM should continue to pay local law enforcement costs; not Burning Man.

Thanks to your support and the support of Pershing County, we are confident that we will reach a palatable agreement with the BLM very soon. Stay tuned! The original Call To Action is below if you are interested in more details.



(posted 4/28/2006)

Have you ever wondered how much money Burning Man pays to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to use the Black Rock Desert? Have you ever wondered where all that money goes? Would you like to give the BLM your opinion about how to use those public funds to better serve the public? Well, not only is this your chance; but it’s also your right. Moreover, we ask that you make it your duty.

Each year we submit our Operating Plan, and each year the BLM replies with an Environmental Assessment (EA) and stipulations.  This results in a signed permit, which puts us in a position of supporting and following the stipulations.  For 10-years we’ve worked with the BLM and successfully negotiated stipulations.  In most cases the stipulations were born from our own initiative in the Operating Plan we submit with our permit request form.  Some of you may remember our permit initially being returned and not processed in 1998. At that time we waged a serious campaign with the BLM, and this included a call to action via the JRS. The BLM was flooded with 500 letters that they are required to painstakingly file and catalog. This action by the Burning Man participant base when there were less than 10,000 on the JRS was a significant part of the push that eventually caused the BLM to relent and process the permit.

Unfortunately, this year’s permit stipulations aren’t going as smoothly as they have in the past. Suggested modifications could cost us in excess of $200,000 in 2006 alone. Here’s where we’re at right now.  The BLM has different options for charging users of public land.  After experimenting with some of these methods, the BLM settled upon a method that is simple to calculate, maximizes funds for the Black Rock Desert National Conservation Area (NCA), and is not too much of a financial burden on Burning Man or its participants.  Most of you know the BLM requires $4 per person per day for the use of the federally owned land.  For the past several years this method has yielded over $700,000 annually for the BLM.  The BLM in turn uses this money to pay for costs associated with Burning Man.  The remainder goes towards stewardship of the NCA land itself.

Since 1998 BLM law enforcement has taken an increasingly larger piece of the pie.  (See Chart 1.)  In 2005 over $500,000 went to law enforcement related costs.  From 1998 to 2004 the cost of law enforcement astronomically increased 616%.  In stark contrast population growth in Black Rock City during this period has only been slight, and has even tapered off in the last couple of years.  What’s more startling is the fact that the already low incidence of crime in Black Rock City has not significantly increased, and has in fact dropped in some of those years. (See Chart 2.)

CHART 1 (click for larger version)
graph 1

CHART 2 (click for larger version)
graph 2

So what’s the need for all this excess law enforcement?  We asked that same question almost a year ago in a report we submitted to the BLM.  Although the BLM sent us a cursory response, to date there has been no full accounting, nor has there been a rational reason given for the increasing costs.

It seems apparent that the increase in LE costs has motivated the local district to do everything to squeeze more permit funds out of Burning Man to help manage the NCA.  For years the BLM has entered into a Law Enforcement Agreement with Pershing County (the county in which Black Rock City sits) to enforce state and local laws at Burning Man.  Each year the BLM has requested assistance from the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, and then reimbursed the county for its costs out of the fees that the BLM is authorized to collect from Burning Man.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhance Act (16 U.S.C. section 6801 et seq.) prevents the BLM from double charging users of public land for expenses that the BLM incurs under other areas of law.  The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. section 1733) names the BLM as the agency authorized to incur local law enforcement costs.  Therefore, these costs cannot be double charged to Burning Man.

Previously, the BLM tried unsuccessfully to pass these local law enforcement costs onto Burning Man.  Our legal team tells us this is an illegal way to double charge Burning Man.  In 2002 a letter from three members of Congress made the BLM reconsider its attempt.  In 2005 the BLM tried to get support for this arrangement from Pershing County.  However, the county chose what Burning Man had to offer instead–donations to charities in Pershing County from ice-sale revenue.  Now for the third time the BLM is again trying to pass these costs onto Burning Man by pretending that the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office is a “vendor,” like Johnny-On-The-Spot, or the company that supplies water trucks for dust abatement.  Never mind that the business of enforcing laws is a GOVERNMENT function; not the responsibility of Black Rock City, LLC–a private company.

Furthermore, the BLM also wants to put a cap on the population of Black Rock City.  The Nevada Department of Transportation and Nevada Highway Patrol stated publicly that Highway 447 is not even near its capacity during Burning Man.  The only reason given by the BLM is that there would not be enough room in the one motel in Gerlach to house the increased number of law enforcement officers at Burning Man.  First, law enforcement levels are already too high and unjustified.  Second, there are other housing options in the area.

The increase in law enforcement costs has motivated the local district to do everything to squeeze more permit funds out of Burning Man to help manage the NCA.  Accordingly, the BLM also wants to start charging the daily $4 per person per day use fee that Burning Man already pays for participants now for the staff members who work during Burning Man as if they were ticket-buying participants.  This would go against a 10-year precedent whereby staff members were not included in fee calculations.  This is even more egregious when one learns that the permit stipulations require many of these staff to be working the event for health and safety purposes.  These staff members include emergency services personnel like fire, medical, Rangers and others who devote their time so that participants can safely enjoy Black Rock City.

There’s one more change the BLM wants to institute in 2006.  The BLM wants to demand that Black Rock City, LLC evicts participants if the police simply say there is “good cause” to evict.  This would give the police much more leeway than is allowed by the civil liberties guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment.  If this change goes into our stipulations then the police can simply ask the organizers to evict a participant without probable cause.

Please note that none of these changes would cause Burning Man to end in the short run.  However, there’s no reason not to believe this is the beginning of a push from a government agency to increasingly change and modify fair arrangements we have had for years.  If you support Burning Man, if you want ticket prices not to increase because of the BLM’s mismanagement, if you care about how your public funds are being spent, if you care about the future of the Black Rock Desert NCA, if you believe government agencies should be held to the letter of the law, if you value your First Amendment right to express yourself and assemble on public land, if you value your civil rights, and if you want your voice to be heard then here’s what we would like you to do:

CALL, SEND AN EMAIL, OR POSTMARK A LETTER TO THE BLM BEFORE MAY 5TH AT 4:30 PM, WHICH IS THE END OF THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD. The public comment period is where the general public can give their feedback about the BLM’s proposed decision about the permit, Environmental Assessment (EA) or the stipulations.  The preliminary EA is located at  The stipulations are not available to the public yet.

First we’ve provided a sample letter, but if you’d like to craft one in your own words (which we encourage) you’ll find important bullet points to consider below the letter.  Please be sure to send it to Dave Cooper so your comments get in the public record.  But, please also send copies to Gail Givens and Ron Wenker, who are also involved in the stipulation decisions.  Finally, be sure to copy Burning Man so we can track this campaign.

It has been 7 years since we’ve asked for your help at this scale. We’ve been careful to ask for your involvement when we really need it. This IS one of those times. Over 50% of participants on the event-bases census admit to being activists. So, let’s activate!

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Dave Cooper, National Conservation Area Manager
Bureau of Land Management
Winnemucca Field Office
5100 East Winnemucca Boulevard
Winnemucca, NV 89445-2921
(775) 623-1516

Dear Mr. Cooper:

Thank you for cooperating with Burning Man over the years.  You have helped to enrich my life by making the Burning Man event a reality.  I enjoy being able to use my public lands for recreation and self-expression as a Burning Man participant.  Moreover, I support Burning Man as the largest Leave No Trace event in the world.

I am troubled by the BLM’s plan to charge Burning Man even more money this year. The BLM already gets over $700,000 from Burning Man, which is more than sufficient.  I want to voice my opinion that this plan is not what the users of public land want.  I see the BLM’s plan to charge Burning Man for local law enforcement costs and staff working at the event as the government’s way of unfairly eroding the cooperation between Burning Man and the BLM.

The Federal Land Policy Management and Management Act (43 U.S.C. section 1733(d)) places the responsibility of enforcing state and local laws on the BLM; not on Burning Man. Also, I am appalled that the BLM would even consider charging fees for fundamental health and safety personnel that are mandated by the permit to work at Burning Man, and who do not purchase a ticket to the event.

The organizers of Burning Man do an incredible job of providing the entire necessary infrastructure for a large temporary city.  I see no valid reason to cap the population of Black Rock City.  I think this attempt is arbitrary and capricious.

Burning Man is an extremely orderly and organized event.  I believe it is the greatest experiment in self-policing community in the world, and it would be difficult for the BLM to disagree with that statement.  Furthermore, the Black Rock Rangers do an excellent job of keeping the event safe.  I strongly oppose the BLM’s plan to dictate who the organizers must evict from Black Rock City.

In summary, please remove the stipulations requiring Burning Man to pay for local law enforcement and staff at the event.  Also, please remove the population cap and the stipulation about evictions.  Thank you.



Cc:       Ron Wenker, Nevada State Director
Bureau of Land Management
1340 Financial Blvd.
Reno, NV 89502-7147
(775) 861-6590

Gail Givens, Winnemucca Field Director
Bureau of Land Management
Winnemucca Field Office
5100 East Winnemucca Boulevard
Winnemucca, NV 89445-2921
(775) 623-1501

Black Rock City, LLC
ATTENTION: BLM Public Comment
PO Box 884688
San Francisco, CA 94188-4688

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Alternatively, if you choose to craft your own letter then here are the salient points to make:

1) You support Burning Man, which the BLM has touted as the largest Leave No Trace event on public land.

2) You strongly oppose the BLM’s attempt to double charge by making Burning Man pay for local law enforcement costs, and for the daily fee for health and safety staff necessary to work and support the event.

3) You believe Burning Man is a peaceful, family, art event and that there is no logical reason to cap population.

4) You oppose any attempt by law enforcement to be able to tell the event organizers to evict participants for a broadly generalized “good cause.”

5) Describe your past personal experience with law enforcement at Burning Man if applicable.

Please be respectful and courteous in your tone.  Respectful and courteous comments will be taken seriously.  Rude comments will only make this crisis worse.

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THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!  We will keep you posted about this issue.  To be continued…

~ The Burning Man Project [para_end]

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase

Will Chase is Burning Man's former Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He was the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Burning Man Journal, and content manager for Burning Man’s web properties. He also oversaw the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social media presence. Will first attended Burning Man in 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004 until he transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009.

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