Burning Man and BLM Begin 10-Year Environmental Impact Statement

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 blm_nv_burningmaneis@blm.gov.

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

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

27 Comments on “Burning Man and BLM Begin 10-Year Environmental Impact Statement

  • Ramon says:

    I believe strongly in citizen government. I will contact my Representative and both Senators, or whomever as required by approval process.

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    • Infored says:

      What they said, be sure to read the BLM info and make intelligent comments to BLM. They are in charge of the process.

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    • JASmith, PhD says:

      I work for the Federal Government implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for the last 12 years. The NEPA process (and henceforth the environmental impact statement) is NOT an opportunity to “vote.” Although public comment and involvement is key to the Act’s application and success, this input is very specific to the actual impacts (think physical, chemical…in other words, something that can actually be analyzed in an objective way) of issuing the permit as rightly pointed out by the information provided above. Most importantly, an EIS is NOT a decision document. It informs the BLM’s decision as to the permit, but does not singularly dictate how the agency will act in response to Burning Man’s application. The meetings with BM should be used to think creatively (as this group ALWAYS does) about how to avoid, minimize or mitigate any deleterious effects of the actual event. Expressing your preference for the event, your feelings about the event, your personal experiences about the event, etc. cannot be analyzed by the agency, and will be given a “thank you for your comment” at most because (honestly) that is all the agency can do with a non-substantive (in terms of the resources being analyzed in the EIS) comments from the public.

      Just trying to provide a little helpful insight on how to participate productively and effectively in the NEPA process, to be a part of the continuing creative solutions that BM has historically offered in these efforts, and to manage expectations about this process and the agency’s role (and lack of congressional role) in making this permit decision — from someone who implements NEPA everyday.

      Have a blessed day.

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  • Robyn Barnes says:

    There should be an impact study on the effect playa dust has on humans. Long time burners already know that it destroys your stuff. What is it doing to organic tissue, especially sensitive organs?

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    • Kirsten Lopez says:

      There are long term studies that relate to dust inhalation and alkaline environments, resulting in OSHA safety regulations and PPE, though this has been with construction and utility workers. See OSHA website for Silicosis, and why bandanas are not enough. However I think the alkalinity has more short term effects, but I haven’t looked into it as much.

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  • Jason says:

    What challenges are preventing the event from being moved to the Fly Ranch property?

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    • Zac Cirivello says:

      Hey Jason,

      Fly Ranch isn’t really suited to hold an event like BRC. It’s a narrow and long property that has an abundance of geographical variety as well as plants and animals. The event was held on the Hualapai Playa portion of the property in ’97 but the population at that time was roughly 10k and people still needed to camp in grassland and brush.

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    The EIS is a huge project behind the scenes. The current one is https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/nepa/28954/37412/39212/Burning_Man_DOI-BLM-NV-W030-2012-0007-Final_EA.pdf.

    The current EIS details the basis for greenhouse gas and air pollution reporting (Sec 4.2). I would like to see yearly reporting to the participants in a way that is actionable by the participants.

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  • Nia says:

    Ah! It makes me a bit nervous in regards to pop size for next year!

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  • Desert Silence says:

    So. I heard a rumor in Cedarville that BM was looking to expand its population next year. This turns out to be both true and false. True if you look at the long term, false if you look at 2018. (A permit for more would almost certainly not be available for 2018 anyway.) Apparently the thought is to go up to 100,000, although not next year.

    Apart from the EIS, someone needs to give some thought to the question of whether the event managers can handle that many more people. It seems to me that a lot of the infrastructure and systems are over stressed as it is. Adding another 30,000 people will not help. That’s more than a 40% increase.

    42% more people means 42% more potties, 42% more law enforcement, 42% more medical emergencies, 42% more sexual assaults (and crimes of all sorts), and last but not least, 42% more MOOP.

    Still there won’t be enough tickets for everyone who wants to come.

    I’m just questioning the wisdom of getting any bigger.

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    • Jon Mitchell says:

      Hi, Desert Silence. Please know that we have made no plans to grow the event at all. Before we make decisions about growth, we need to fully understand the impact of it. This long-term EIS will help us understand the environmental impact of any future growth, but of course we also have to weigh that against the impact on the culture of Black Rock City and the surrounding communities. We are taking are time to gather the info we need so that we can make informed decisions, and we appreciate you sharing your perspective.

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      • Desert Silence says:

        Appreciate the reply.

        The article says “The analysis would include consideration of the following:

        A maximum population of 80,000 to 100,000 people..”

        You are chopping logic just a bit here. You have no “plans to grow the event at all” but that doesn’t mean you are not thinking about it. (If no one was thinking about it, the possibility would not be in the EIS.) You are not “PLANNING” on it but you are certainly covering your options on this score.

        I appreciate it that you are taking opinions about this, and not just announcing it.

        From what I heard hanging around Cedarville (people did not identify me as a burner) the local enthusiasm for the event as it is stands at a very low point; enthusiasm for making it even bigger is even lower. But this is just street talk. I’m sure there is a diversity of opinion on that, even in Cedarville.

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      • Athena says:

        PLEASE do not grow the event. It will not make tickets easily available – demand has outstripped supply too far for that to happen. It will just make entrance and departure more grueling, and it’s already pretty intense. And, not to criticize the hard workers at Gate, but they appear to be overwhelmed with our current number of attendees.

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    • JAS, PhD says:

      Alternatives – such as those contemplated for population growth, no event, no growth – are all required by the NEPA process. it’s call a “range of reasonable alternatives” that must be analyzed in the contest of: 1) to issue/not issue the permit; and 2) potential conditions places on a new permit if granted. This is all a part of NEPA and it allows the agency to stop and take a “hard look” at what the environmental implications would be of the alternatives analyzed in full in the study.

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    • Rautamies says:

      First of all your numbers are off. 80,000 already go there when you factor in infrastructure workers. The maximum potential growth in the next 10 (!!) years is 25%. If you don’t like the idea of growth, one solution is that you choose not to go. Unless you feel entitled to be included in the current 80,000 people and don’t like the idea of another 20,000 joining?

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  • Lou Who says:

    It’s disheartening that Larry Harvey’s original vision has been swept under a rug. Environment be damned! What happened to Step 1- Burning Man. Step 2- Regional burns. Step 3- public art everywhere and people living a community based lifestyle. Well step 2 has been underway for years. Step 1 should be over. Burning Man was revolutionary and amazing and life changing, but it’s not sustainable. And also not what Harvey claimed many years ago. Step 3 is certainly well underway in a public art sense. Maybe we could take all the resources being used at the annual Burning Man and use them towards our own local communities instead, with far less waste. More art, more sharing, more community. We got Step 3, we just all need to participate.

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  • JamesCracker says:

    People no longer drive on the previous sites because the risk of blowouts from rebar and other debris. Let’s pretend they don’t matter. Party on!

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  • Heather Rebecca-Wilkins Park says:

    I’m going to be a new Virgin hopefully coming to BurningMan in 2018.
    As a partcipant and leader in other events aka Bonneville Salt Flats Utah Rocket Club, I’ve noticed first hand the cost, and impact of having so many poeple come to an event but not really take care of their surroundings. And we never charged so much for the event. Having so many poeple at Burning Man and hearing about thousands of bikes left behind is disheartening. I’m sure those who come out for the experience take it very seriously, but many do not appreciate their surroundings. I personally have had 1st hand experience with the BLM, reports paperwork fees, they really do work with leaders and events to make it fair and take care of our land. It’s a give and take. But in truth the general public and those coming to camp and participate need to respect their environment. Takes their dusty bikes home, be cleaner and give back by following all the rules. I’ve never experienced BurningMan but I have experienced rocket Flying and it takes everyone doing their part and being personally responsible to allow these amazing events to he keep going. Long Run BurningMan and hopefully my turn with show up.
    Heather Park

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  • Eagle Eye says:

    Thank you so much for this in depth update. The one piece of this article that REALLY grabbed my attention, and gives me pause:

    “Use of approximately 16.5 million gallons of water for dust abatement”

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    • The Dead Zone says:

      Yeah, and they’ll need so much more if they expand BRC. It’s already too large … I left 12-hours after arrival this year because (among other things like the HEAT) free-camping was pushed all the way back to H-Street.

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      • Stroker says:

        The Dead Zone, actually there is open camping available as close as C street. If you look at the Placement Map you will see that it has “scallops” or “spokes”. This means that placed camps, in blue, stretch back to H and open camping, in white, extends up to C. True that the availability is spotty but it is there.

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      • The Dead Zone says:

        Stroker: True unless you want to camp near 10:00 or 2:00 and not have to bring a bicycle to get around.

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  • I never know about BLM but after reading this article i have good new information. Tnks so much..

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  • Perhaps also good opportunity to reconsider the location and also evaluate and evolve the current principles. Besides being the biggest Leave no trace festival, why not become the biggest ‘Leave a green trace’ festival? Why put so much value in what you are instead of what you can become? What if 100.000 burners would start planting trees as well and are able to kick start new communities in areas that are currently eroding? Can you imagine a festival that is actually restoring the world by having a party? The 3.8 million now paid on permits can then be spend on trees and infrastructure to help restore eroded areas around the world. Please BM also consider to grow out of your comfortable little salt dessert, areas the size of Texas and bigger are waiting for you out there in the world!

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  • Pooh Bear says:

    I would only be comfortable growing the number of attendees if it could be determined that we could increase the allowable attendance enough so the event didn’t sell out. Since the event began to sell out we have been confronted by the reality that not everyone who wants to come home can. Prior to the sell out you knew anyone who wanted to be there was there. I dream of the day when we can say again, everyone who wants to be here is here. I had always assumed that would happen when the “cool kids” decided Burning Man wasn’t the latest greatest thing anymore.

    I can’t think of anything that has improved about Burning Man since the population has increased past 50k. I can say the event just feels too big right now. We get nothing out of increasing the population if we can’t increase it past the point where people are shut out for a lack of tickets.

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  • Good news i love black rock city

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