Guy Farmer: Ring of fire: Burners at it again

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Every time I write a Burning Man column I tell myself it’s the last one because I’ve been beating up on them for more than 20 years. But then the money-grubbing Burner hierarchy does or says something that deserves to be written about, so here goes:

The Burners, who want to expand their annual naked drug festival in the Black Rock desert north of Reno to include 100,000 “free spirits” from around the world, are now challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) environmental requirements. BLM, the Black Rock City landlord that makes millions of dollars off the X-rated event, wants to increase federal oversight of the Burners’ sometimes bizarre and/or illegal activities.

Burning Man’s San Francisco-based organizers have described BLM’s draft environmental impact report as “unreasonable” and “in direct conflict with our community’s core principles.” And here I thought the Burners wanted to save the planet. According to Sam Gross of the Reno Gazette Journal, “At stake is a 10-year special recreation permit for use of a 14,820-acre portion of the desert ... and the potential for Burning Man to grow to a maximum population of 100,000 over the next five years.”

Specifically, BLM proposes more federal oversight of the event and wants the Burners to pay for maintenance on County Road 34, the only way in and out of Black Rock City. The Feds also want the Burners to place dumpsters throughout the site, install 10 miles of hard barriers around the perimeter and contract a BLM-approved private security company to screen for drugs and weapons. However, the Burners always complain about harsh and “oppressive” enforcement of federal and state drug laws.

In fact, whenever the Pershing County sheriff announces he’s going to enforce drug laws, the Burners protest loudly, claiming they’re being discriminated against. They moved their event from Washoe to Pershing County several years ago because Pershing (Lovelock) is a long way from Black Rock City and the small, rural county, has minimal law enforcement. The county hires additional deputies during Burning Man, but is woefully understaffed to police an event featuring drugs and sex (complete with an “orgy dome”) along with art — some of it quite creative and unique — and consciousness-raising activities. Use your imagination.

The Burner hierarchy, which grosses more than $30 million annually, complains new BLM requirements could cost them an additional $10 million per year, requiring yet another increase in individual ticket prices, which can run to more than $500. Burner organizers, who never want to talk about money (“filthy lucre”), rake it in hand over fist, especially from wealthy West Coast techies who set up closed, private camps complete with air conditioning, celebrity chefs and “sherpas” who bring participants whatever they want whenever they want it. Again, use your imagination. You can sign up for one of these elite camps for a minimum of $20,000, and you won’t have to rub elbows with less entitled Burners. So much for “radical self-reliance,” one of their “core principles.”

Mark Hall, BLM’s Black Rock City field manager, said the environmental impact report isn’t finalized yet, and invited the public to submit comments before the April 29 deadline. This column is my comment. But if you think BLM is going to crack-down on Burning Man and kill the golden goose, think again. In the wonderful world of federal land management, money talks despite all the high-sounding pronouncements about environmentalism.

Attend an upcoming public hearing in Reno or Lovelock if you want to know how the Burners really feel about our sovereign state.

Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, has been a consistent Burning Man critic for more than 20 years.


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