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Government Relations     page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Burning Man Speaks Out

In the spring of 1999, the Burning Man community stepped forward to express opinions on the land management and recreational use plan then under development.

The initial draft included restrictions on the numbers of people who could attend events under special recreation permits. Burning Man participants responded with the strength of a united community. They attended scoping meetings and wrote letters, resulting in the removal of the restriction from the subsequent draft. This same period we also worked to find common cause with other users of the desert. Historically, environmental politics in the high desert have been a battleground between competing ideologies, but the spring of 1999 seemed to bring new opportunities. Black Rock City is a radically inclusive community: ranchers, environmentalists, land-sailors, off-road recreationists, and many other types of users are already a part of Burning Man.

Continued contact with political organizations representing these interests kindled hope that a communitarian approach could heal divisions. We believe that all of these user groups are motivated by a fundamental love of the land. As the single largest user group in the Black Rock Desert, the Burning Man community seemed in a position to draw these sometimes-fractious groups into a coalition.


But in politics, as in life, things don't always happen as planned.

In late 2000, progress on the emerging management plan stopped, and a new congressional bill eventually superceded the plan. It included the Black Rock Desert in a National Conservation Area (NCA). Its full title is The Black Rock Desert - High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area and Associated Wilderness Areas.

Among other things, this bill mandated stronger protections for certain wilderness sites in the greater Black Rock region. Although this action came as a surprise to us, wilderness groups had been quietly shepherding its development for over a year. Burning Man tried to remain neutral. We had established relationships with local ranchers, off-highway-vehicle users and others who distrusted the provisions of the NCA, but it gradually dawned on us that the event was caught in the middle of a range war.

Eventually, the environmentalists who were lobbying for this bill approached the Burning Man organizers. Those in control of the language in the legislation indicated that, without some open support for this bill, our community's interests might not be protected in the document being drafted. The result could possibly exclude Burning Man and other recreational users from the desert. It was also made clear that powerful lobbying organizations might challenge future permit applications.

The Project finally wrote a formal letter of support for this legislation. Although the future of the bill appeared uncertain at the time, it rallied in the eleventh hour before a winter break and was passed by Congress. The language in the bill's provisions expressly guarantees that large-scale recreation events such as Burning Man are appropriate uses of the playa.

After designation of an NCA, the Bureau of Land Management must produce a land management and recreational use plan within three years. This requirement forced coalition-building to start from scratch.

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