Burning Man Says New U.S. Rules Could 'Spell End Of The Event As We Know It'

Organizers of the annual event in the Nevada desert say Bureau of Land Management permit requirements are “untenable.”

The organizers of Burning Man are protesting new federal requirements they say could cost millions of dollars and “spell the end of the event as we know it.”

The popular annual event has taken place on public land in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for almost three decades, but when organizers applied for a 10-year permit extension to continue using the area, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management proposed additional rules.

BLM, part of the Interior Department, issued a draft environmental impact statement last month based on the potential effects of the Burning Man event on the natural landscape, as well as risks to public health and safety. The agency proposed new requirements, including erecting physical barriers at the event’s perimeter for security reasons, installing dumpsters in and around the site, and banning certain kinds of lights at night because of possible harm to birds and other wildlife. 

Burning Man issued a strongly worded rebuttal to these suggestions and urged event attendees — who refer to themselves as “burners” — to submit comments to BLM by the April 29 deadline. Organizers said earlier this month that “hundreds” of burners and other supporters had submitted comments to the agency.

Burning Man slammed BLM’s proposed rules in a statement on its website as “unreasonable” and “untenable.” A Burning Man spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that the proposed restrictions could increase the event’s total expenses ― now about $38 million annually ― by nearly 60%. 

“Altogether, these requirements would fundamentally change the operational integrity and cultural fabric of Black Rock City, and would spell the end of the event as we know it. This is not an exaggeration,” organizers said in a blog post. 

Some fencing already exists around the site and is “heavily monitored and patrolled,” organizers said. Bright lights at night, they added, are critical for entertainment purposes, as well as logistical and safety reasons. 

“Previous environmental studies have shown the migration pattern of birds isn’t in fact impacted by light pollution emanating from the Black Rock Desert,” the Burning Man post said. “In fact, birds are rarely encountered [in the area] in hot summer months.”

It added: “It’s also worth noting that by far the brightest light cluster [in the desert] is to be found at the BLM compound.” 

The organizers also took issue with BLM’s suggestion of dumpsters, which they said would “undermine the core principles of Burning Man’s culture and cause environmental degradation.” The requirement would also be “logistically and financially crippling,” they added. 

“Burning Man is the largest and most successful Leave No Trace event in the world ... we pack everything in and pack everything out,” the organizers said. “Our community’s resounding success in this area is largely due to the fact that there are no trash cans (or dumpsters) ... so participants must rely on themselves to Leave No Trace.”

Residents who live near the event site, however, have said this ethos has not been sufficient. “This town gets trashed,” Melanie McClenahan, who works in nearby Gerlach, told the Journal. 

As ABC News noted, the new permit restrictions will not affect this year’s Burning Man event, though they could be in effect for next year’s festivities. 

BLM is slated to make a decision on the permit request by August. As the Journal noted, this year’s Burning Man, scheduled from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2, could be the last on federal land if organizers aren’t able to broker a compromise with the agency.

Some burners have expressed fury at the government’s interference.  

“We are our own city. We have no government, and I’m not saying it would work in everyday, but keeping the feds as far away as possible from encroaching into the event has worked OK thus far,” 29-year-old Jessyca Jones told ABC News. “Now, that’s not to say they aren’t present every year. But they’ve not built a fucking wall around us and it’s been just fine.”