The Bureau of Land Management published Burning Man’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Friday, June 14. We’ve spent the past few days reading it and assessing what the agency’s new requirements mean for Black Rock City. It’s going to take time to fully understand what impacts BLM’s changes will have, and we’ll bring more details to you in the coming weeks, but we want to give you an update now and share what we know about some of our biggest issues with the EIS.
Burning Man 2019
First, while there have been some questions about 2019 since the EIS was published, let’s be clear: Black Rock City 2019 is happening. Like you, we’re deep into planning for the event, so don’t hesitate to keep cranking on those amazing projects, art installations, mutant vehicles and theme camps. We’re looking forward to yet another incredible Burning Man event.
Our population for 2019 will be capped at a total of 80,000 people, which is almost the same as 2018. When we set out on this EIS journey, we had no immediate plans to grow, and that is still the case. We wanted to understand the potential impacts of growth before making decisions about whether to increase Black Rock City’s population or not. This EIS is designed to give data on how our activities affect the environment and surrounding communities. A possible population bump in the future is still on the table, but for 2019 we are satisfied to remain steady.
Dumpsters in Black Rock City
Many of you submitted comments in response to the Draft EIS challenging BLM’s requirement for dumpsters (NAT-2 and WHS-1) in Black Rock City. We strenuously objected in our comments as well (see Attachment 2 in Volume 2 of the FEIS). The agency’s proposed solution far outstripped any existing problem and they didn’t provide an analysis of the environmental impacts.
Outcome: BLM has now indicated they will impose this mitigation in the future ONLY IF it is needed to address unsolved issues identified by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe or Nevada Department of Transportation. What this means is that we have an opportunity to prevent having dumpsters on the playa, but to do this we must all dramatically change the way we manage our waste stream. While our actions in removing detritus from the playa surface are superb, we’re simply not doing a good enough job disposing of our trash after we leave Black Rock City. Trash can NOT be left in a pile on the roadside in the Paiute Nation; it can NOT be left at an I-80 or any other public highway rest stop or dumpster; it can NOT be left in the trash behind a business in Reno, Sparks, Winnemucca, Nevada City, Salt Lake City … or any spot on your drive home from Black Rock City.
We must all do better — even one person’s misstep affects us all — to prevent dumpsters in Black Rock City from becoming our new reality. Burning Man’s Survival Guide has helpful guidelines, tips, tricks, and a list of approved disposal locations, so you can do your part (and make sure your friends do too!), and the Leave Nevada Beautiful hang-tag given to every vehicle entering Black Rock City has the same list. Every one of us needs to participate in keeping public dumpsters out of Black Rock City.
Hundreds of you submitted comments to the Draft EIS in response to BLM’s recommendation that we place nearly 10 miles of impenetrable physical security barriers (PHS-3) around the perimeter of Black Rock City. We opposed this proposal in our official comments as well (see Attachment 2 in Volume 2 of the FEIS).
Outcome: This mitigation will likely not be required for 2019, and we have the opportunity to avoid it in the future. Securing the boundary of Black Rock City has always been a priority to Burning Man — while Radical Inclusion is one of our core principles, trespassing in Black Rock City without a ticket will not be tolerated. We will continue to maintain a secure perimeter, including working closely with law enforcement to enforce that perimeter. If we do so, there will be no need for impenetrable physical barriers around Black Rock City.
Vehicle Screening by BLM Security
This proposal is one of our gravest concerns. BLM has proposed employing a private security force at all points of entry into the event to screen vehicles, participants, vendors, contractors, staff and volunteers for banned or illegal contraband and (unsettlingly vague) “significant concerns.” Individuals found to be in possession of these items would be handed directly to law enforcement.
Outcome: This mitigation will likely not be implemented for 2019, and we may have the opportunity to prevent it in the future. This proposal from BLM represents a massive shift from Burning Man’s 30-year history running our own operations to BLM running certain Black Rock City operations, without our coordination, and without our control over the costs or implementation. It also subjects a peaceable gathering of people to searches without probable cause other than a desire to attend Burning Man. We’ve submitted our serious concerns to the BLM (see Attachment 2 in Volume 2 of the FEIS) about the significant constitutional, civil rights, environmental, cultural and operational impacts of this proposal. This is one requirement we are prepared to push back on, and we will keep you posted as we better understand the situation and what can be done about it.
Other BLM Requirements That Can Affect Your Burn
There are a few other mitigations that may directly affect your Burn. If you want to bring a lodging structure over 10 feet tall that wasn’t expressly manufactured for that purpose, we’ll need to inspect it. If you’re planning to transport a large art installation through BLM-managed lands outside of our closure area, you will need to get prior authorization from the BLM. Burning Man Project will be made to pay “a reclamation bond sufficient to remove large art installations and theme camp materials left behind after Exodus.” We’ll be conducting an oil drip survey to assess how much, if any, oil is deposited on the playa surface during the event. There may be additional restrictions imposed on light emissions, and you will see BLM personnel and contractors monitoring many aspects of Black Rock City (Final EIS Volume 2 Appendix E), including the local brachiopod population.
We Already Do This
While it may be confusing for EIS readers, many of the mitigations and monitoring listed in Appendix E that appear to be new requirements are, in fact, brief descriptions of our existing operations in Black Rock City (some of which were taken from our original EIS proposal). You should know that we pioneered and created our own playa restoration operation and fuel prevention and response plan. Our Black Rock Rangers enforce speed limits on the playa, and for six years we have limited the number of vehicles entering Black Rock City. And, of course, for over 20 years we have been patrolling area hot springs to prevent degradation from increased visitor use over the Labor Day weekend.
We still have questions for BLM and will be working with them to understand their new requirements when the Record of Decision is published in the middle of July. We will also be working to ensure that concerns expressed by BLM, members of the public, and our cooperating agencies are addressed in future years.
We want to thank you again for your continued interest in the EIS process and for your incredible support. We have been reminded again and again that our community is articulate, well-read, driven to help create change, and can eloquently defend the event and the culture when put to the test. Thank you.
Top photo by Wayne Stadler