Burning Man narrowly passes environmental inspection

The Man is silhouetted against a morning sunrise in the Black Rock Desert on Sept. 2, 2006. (Photo: Ron Lewis/AP, file)

The Man is silhouetted against a morning sunrise in the Black Rock Desert on Sept. 2, 2006. (Photo: Ron Lewis/AP, file)

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RENO – The organizers of the Burning Man festival narrowly passed their environmental inspection after mass torrential rains closed roads, jammed traffic and forced many to walk miles barefoot through muck, leaving trails of debris in the remote Nevada desert, according to a Nov. 29 report from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

An unusual summer storm left tens of thousands stranded in ankle-deep mud before fleeing, calling into question how much of the festival's "Leave No Trace" principle could be followed. Each year, attendees vow to pack up everything they brought to the makeshift city, leaving the sprawling stretch of federal land as it was before they arrived.

The festival passed 109 of the 120 randomly generated inspection points, along with five of six "points of interest" designated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, according to the report. Had they failed one more point, they would not have passed the inspection.

A passing grade hinged on inspectors finding less than one square foot of debris per acre.

This year's clean up was "significantly more challenging" due to rain from the event, which buried debris, hardened mud and made cleanup much more difficult for the volunteers, according to the report.

The area became dotted with abandoned vehicles, furniture, tents and trash. Most years, the dry desert floor is harder and easier to navigate.

Still, a narrow passing grade is nothing new.

Burning Man organizers passed the Oct. 7, 2022, inspection – "but it was extraordinarily and alarmingly close," the restoration team's manager wrote, adding that last year`s was one of the “messiest playas in recent history.”

That year, the organizers passed 112 of the 120 inspection points – meaning they were four foiled inspection points away from failing.

Despite another close call this year, organizers hailed cleanup crews and volunteers that stayed after the festival.

"The best of the Burning Man community shined through at this year's event," said Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell in a press release. "Participants rose to the challenge and came together with innovative solutions to problems and incredible expressions of generosity."

Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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