So, You Want to Visit the Playa This Summer… Part 2: Updates from BLM

A series about visiting the Black Rock Desert in the summer of 2021, with updates from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), insights into desert life, responsible recreation on public lands, Leaving No Trace, staying safe, visiting Gerlach and the surrounding communities, emergency services, and much more. Please use this series as a guide to help you be prepared and stay informed as you travel to the Black Rock Desert. Read all the posts here.

We here at Burning Man Project have shared your enthusiasm for visiting the playa in this year without Black Rock City, watching as many of you made plans to see each other in Nevada in the coming months, bringing your creativity and experience to the planning process, thinking about safety, and sharing information about rules, requirements, and resources. We started this Journal series to provide helpful information to those of you making plans to travel to the desert.

And like you, we’ve been curious about the activities BLM will permit this summer. On June 7, BLM announced their decisions in a letter to camps and businesses that applied for commercial and Special Recreation Permits (SRPs), noting that certain temporary restrictions would be implemented on the playa. We have a good relationship with BLM and were working together on our permit for Black Rock City in the early part of the year, but we aren’t involved in BLM’s decision-making process about restrictions in the Black Rock Desert unrelated to our own permit.

It’s not clear yet whether BLM is going to publish the temporary restrictions in the Federal Register, as they do with Black Rock City’s Temporary Closure Order. We’re providing information about BLM’s decisions as a courtesy, but the agency itself is, of course, the best source of information about any restrictions.

To read the full contents of the letter from BLM to permit seekers, scroll to the bottom of this article or click here.

BLM informed us that the effective dates for the temporary restrictions are July 1 through October 31, 2021.

It takes a lot of time and effort to understand the government’s permit process. Certain restrictions exist in the National Conservation Area year-round, and some are created specifically for Black Rock City so that we can bring 80,000 people together with flame effects, art burns, and crazy Mutant Vehicles.

Our goal in this post is to share some best practices, alert you to BLM’s guidelines and requirements for the playa this summer, and encourage our community to visit the Black Rock Desert in a responsible way.

Special Recreation Permits

Per their June 7 letter, BLM will not be authorizing organized group SRPs this summer. When the temporary restrictions are in place, you can still go camping, but you can’t build large art projects, and there will be limitations on the number of people, type of structures, and size of each camp. Note too, BLM states that “camping is limited to the flat and unvegetated playa surface” and that the building of structures—other than for sleeping, cooking, or shade—is prohibited.

Commercial Use

As defined by BLM: “An activity is commercial if anyone collects a fee or receives compensation that is in excess of actual expenses.” Commercial activities will be prohibited this summer. This means no vendors, no deliveries, and no services. You can use rented generators and portable toilets as long as you bring them in yourself, don’t have them serviced on site, and take them off the playa on your own. All individuals and camps on playa must be entirely self-sufficient. Burners are skilled in the practice of Radical Self-reliance. If you’re on playa this summer, it will be a great opportunity to put your experience to the test.

Vehicle Requirements & Driving

BLM’s new temporary restrictions would impact motor vehicle use on the playa and include requirements for drivers as well as the vehicles themselves. Please make yourself aware of any new restrictions before operating your vehicle on the playa. Pay special attention to the section about riding on top of a vehicle or outside the passenger compartment, and the section about lasers and flame effects. Review BLM’s letter at the bottom of this post for more information related to driving and motor vehicles.

Speed

The 5 mph speed limit for mutant and staff vehicles in Black Rock City  helps keep us safe, whether we’re on foot, bicycle, or in other vehicles. Driving speeds on the open playa during other times of year are less restrictive, and driving fast with nobody else around can be enticing. But this summer, lots of people are expected on the playa, both Burners and non-Burners alike. Set the example, slow it down, and stay safe. ESPECIALLY—and we can’t say this strongly enough—at night.

Takeoffs & Landings

Per BLM’s letter, “aircraft landing, taking off, touch and go’s, and taxiing is prohibited.” Emergency fixed wing and helicopters would be exempted.

Sanitation

Depositing human waste on the playa surface is prohibited. It always bears repeating: NO PEE OR POOP ON THE PLAYA!

If you have an RV or porta-potty, you’re all set. Make sure you have the correct number of toilets you need for the size of your group, and ensure they don’t blow over in the strong playa winds. If you have neither, there are many options available to you to buy or create your own backcountry toilet. For a simple version, here’s your shopping list: 5-gallon bucket, toilet seat, kitty litter, portable 4-sided curtain. Or you can purchase any number of ready-made options.

Whatever you do… don’t bury it, don’t leave it, don’t ever pee or poop on the playa.

Waste Disposal and Water

To protect the fragile natural environment of the playa, the dumping or discharge of vehicle oil; petroleum products; other household, commercial, or industrial waste; or gray or black water is not allowed. Check your vehicles and trailers, get them tuned up, be ready to capture and clean up leaks. Under BLM’s new temporary restrictions, you also wouldn’t be allowed to discharge fresh, clean water onto the playa if it would create a “hazard or nuisance.”

Fuel Storage & Safety

If you’re planning to take extra fuel to the desert, you need to be safe, informed, and ready. Think about suitable containers, transportation, secondary containment, spill control and response. Fuel spills on the playa are a major environmental concern, and disposal of contaminated dirt and materials needs to conform to Nevada’s hazardous waste regulations. Read this post by Dr. Scirpus and this Fire Safety Agreement: Fuel and Hazardous Materials Storage for excellent guidance. See BLM’s letter for more restrictions.

Fireworks, Explosives & Firearms

According to BLM’s Fire Prevention Order, issued June 22, burning explosive material or using exploding targets, fireworks or steel component ammunition is prohibited on all BLM lands in Nevada from June 25 through October 31, 2021. Please see BLM’s June 7 letter for additional potential restrictions related to firearms on the playa.

Burning

Only the burning of campfires is allowed, and they must be contained in a receptacle elevated six inches above the playa surface. Elevated fires prevent burn scars on the playa. NEVER burn anything directly on the unprotected playa. Community members have spent thousands of hours cleaning up burn scars from the past. Construction material, pallets, wood with screws or nails, plastic and nonflammable materials are not allowed in your campfire. Watch for fire debris falling on the playa.

Burn Scar, 2021 (Photo by Just Joe)

Don’t risk burning a campfire when it’s windy. Without the temporary closure area of Black Rock City, your camp or driving location may be closer to vegetation that can ignite in dry conditions and cause a wildland fire. If you create an unintended fire, BRC’s Emergency Services won’t be on site, and the Gerlach Volunteer Fire Station is miles away.

Government Relations 

We cooperate with a number of government agencies to create the safety infrastructure for Black Rock City — primarily BLM, but also Tribal entities, the Federal Aviation Administration, Pershing and Washoe Counties, Nevada’s Transportation, Highway Patrol, and Public Health Departments, and more. We learn from each other and work together so that we’re allowed to do special activities in Black Rock City.

BLM stated in their June 7 letter that their decisions were made with public health and safety and resource protection in mind. We encourage you to be excellent stewards of the public lands and model good behavior by respectfully following all best management practices if you visit the playa between July 1 and October 31.

Look for Part 3 in this series later this week, when we focus on the National Conservation Area, Leaving No Trace, on-playa communications, emergency services, and more…


Read the full contents of the letter from BLM to permit seekers sent on June 7, 2021:


Cover image: Aerial view of Old Razorback Mountain with Selenite Range and Gerlach, 2019 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

About the author: Marnee Benson

Marnee is Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Government Affairs. Her work focuses on permitting and relationships with the Nevada Legislature, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Pershing County, and multiple other Nevada agencies. She helps Burning Man navigate Nevada politics and federal issues affecting the Burning Man event. Marnee’s first trip to Black Rock City was 2001, and in 2007 she worked with the Department of Public Works and the Communications team, writing and photographing content for the Burning Blog “Building Black Rock City”. From 2009 to 2013, she served as the Deputy Director at Black Rock Solar. She loves the way Burning Man expands her world and flips ideas upside down.

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