Burning Man is seeking a new 10-year permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to continue holding the event in the Black Rock Desert High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area of Northern Nevada, our location for the past 27 years. The playa is our home, and we want to ensure our ability to continue gathering there together each year.
BLM is required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to conduct an environmental impact analysis for any project it permits on federal land. BLM has conducted environmental evaluations of the Burning Man event since organizers first obtained a one-page permit in 1991. (The 2012 environmental assessment weighed in at 343 pages.)
The new analysis will be an environmental impact statement (EIS). BLM will evaluate the potential environmental and human impacts if Black Rock City grows over a 10-year period to a size of 80,000–100,000 people , stays the same, or does not happen at all.
To be clear, we have no immediate plans to grow Black Rock City. Before we decide whether or not to grow Black Rock City, we need to study the potential impacts of that growth. Once we fully understand the potential impacts to the playa and surrounding areas, we can make well-informed decisions about the future. Over the years our growth has been carefully planned, and it has helped ensure our cohesiveness and sustainability as an organization, an event and a culture.
The analysis will include a change in the way population is reported. In the past, BLM and Burning Man have counted staff, volunteers, and public health and safety personnel separately from the rest of the population. For example, in 2017 our allowable cap for participants was 70,000. The actual peak was 69,493. But the total number of people on site including staff, volunteers and public health and safety personnel was 79,379. In future years, the population cap will combine everyone except government personnel and Black Rock City infrastructure providers (think porta potties and water trucks).
The population cap for the 2018 event will remain the same as 2017. The EIS will apply beginning in 2019.
The EIS will take about a year and a half to complete, and public input is a key component of the process. BLM will ask for comments from federal, state and local officials and cooperating agencies, tribal governments, special interest and environmental groups, area residents and the general public. Public meetings will be held in December, and scoping comments will be solicited when the Notice of Intent is published in the Federal Register early next year. There are more details in the FAQ section below, but the first opportunity for public participation (that means you!) will be in Nevada, during meetings in Gerlach, Reno, and Lovelock on December 4, 5 and 6, respectively. If you are unable to attend one of the upcoming meetings, you can still participate by sending your comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can participate in the meetings, beginning at 5 pm each evening, at the following locations:
- Gerlach: Community Center
- Reno: Atlantis Hotel & Casino
- Lovelock: C Punch Inn & Casino
Burning Man is the largest Leave No Trace event in the world, and it’s important we stay that way, both to adhere to our core principles and to be able to return to the pristine site north of Gerlach in the expanse of desert we call home. We hope you’ll support us as we contemplate growth and our future!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and why is it needed now?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was one of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting our environment. NEPA’s basic policy is to assure all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment. NEPA is applied to any major federal, state, or local project that involves federal funding, work performed by the federal government, or permits issued by a federal agency.
NEPA provides options for either an environmental assessment or a considerably more extensive environmental impact statement (EIS).
Burning Man went through an environmental assessment process for the 2012–2016 five-year permit application. BLM granted an extension for 2017 and 2018 to accommodate the current EIS process. For a more thorough explanation of NEPA and the environmental review process, please read this explanation on the Environmental Protection Agency website.
What are some of the other components of Burning Man’s proposal?
The analysis would include consideration of the following:
- A maximum population of 80,000 to 100,000 people
- Expansion of the Temporary Closure Area by 561 acres, totaling 14,669 acres
- Expansion of alternative transportation programs (Burner Express Bus and Burner Express Air)
- Expansion of the perimeter fence by 1.3 miles circumference
- Arrival of up to 30,000 staff and builders by Saturday prior to Gate opening
- 1,250-acre expansion of Black Rock City
- Installation of 300–400 registered art pieces
- Licensing of up to 1,000 Mutant Vehicles and 600 disabled-participant vehicles to drive on the playa during event week
- Use of approximately 16.5 million gallons of water for dust abatement
Additionally, the EIS will analyze a “no action” alternative (stay the same size), a “no event” alternative, and possibly additional alternatives to be determined through public comment and scoping. The EIS will assess the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of Burning Man’s proposal, and will address the mitigation of the direct, indirect, residual, and cumulative impacts of Burning Man’s proposed growth.
What could be the effects of an increase in population size?
We can predict some of the potential effects based on our earlier environmental assessments, including impacts to air quality, night skies, traffic congestion and the Nevada economy. The answers, though, will be determined as part of the EIS process. Burning Man participants, the public, government agencies and other interested parties will be able to comment on the analysis during the EIS process, beginning with public meetings in Gerlach, Reno and Lovelock in early December. BLM will also take written input on the draft EIS next spring and summer.
Would an EIS be required if we moved to private land?
An EIS analysis would not be required on private land. However, moving the event to private land brings its own challenges.
What has changed since 2012 that requires the shift from an environmental assessment to an environmental impact statement?
More people travelling to the event and camping on the land could change the type and scope of impacts. In addition, evolution of the event continues, with different types and numbers of motor vehicles and trailers, as well as changes in camping strategies and space needs. Because of these potential impacts, and because Burning Man is the largest Special Recreation Permit in the country and the event is high profile, BLM has imposed the requirement for an EIS.
How much weight is given to public input, and what opportunities does the public have to provide input?
Public input matters a lot in this process. BLM will host three public comment open-house meetings December 4, 5 and 6 in Gerlach, Reno and Lovelock. Written public comments will be accepted during a 30-day public comment period following publication of the draft EIS in 2018. The public will also have an opportunity to comment on the proposed final EIS after it is published in the Federal Register.
How long does the EIS process take?
BLM has indicated the process will be completed in the spring of 2019, in advance of the 2019 Burning Man event.
What happens in the interim? Is participant population capped at 70,000?
Yes, we expect the participant population to be capped at 70,000 for 2018.
Top photo by John Stephen Chandler