Land Use

Burning Man Hits D.C. (Again)


Politico notes the story of the Burning Man festival (subject of my first book, This is Burning Man) hitting D.C. in the wake of being placed on "probation" vis a vis their permit to use federal land under the control of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I blogged about this probation last week.

The story exaggerates a bit the event's lack of normal electronic connecticity–some people set up private pockets of wireless internet, and due to new cell towers being built in the area there is now occasional spotty cell phone access as well for the past couple of years.  

This Is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground

The political core of the story:

The event — with its principles of "radical inclusion," "decommodification," and "radical self-expression" — has swollen to more than 50,000 people who bring their own food and water and manage to leave little trace. Burning Man sold out last year and demand remains high this year.

The bulk of this year's tickets were sold in a random drawing, leaving long-time "burners," as they are called, without tickets. Organizers want a five-year permit from the bureau and they want to take the event up to 70,000 participants….

Meanwhile, the bureau for the first time put the event on probation for going over the attendee limit of 53,000 during two days of last year's event.

While Burning Man has appealed the decision and Black Rock City will still rise in the desert from Aug. 27 through Sept. 3 this year, the probation status has put a damper on the mood of self-expression clique.

It's also thrown a wrench in the organization's efforts to win a five-year permit from Uncle Sam.

If Burning Man is put on probation again this year, the event's permit could be jeopardized, said Gene Seidlitz, the BLM district manager for the region. The population caps are important as they make it possible for law enforcement and other services to plan, he said.

Burning Man's Goodell said that being put on probation "is not jeopardizing our survival."

As part of its federal outreach, Goodell and Larry Harvey, the founding director of the event, will visit offices of lawmakers from California and Nevada as well as the BLM and the Department of the Interior. They will also hold a cocktail party for congressional staffers and others. The organization declined to say exactly which lawmakers and agencies it plans to visit.

As event founder and director Larry Harvey explains in the video accompanying the story (which contains interviews with him and another event manager Marian Goodell), Burning Man lobbying is not new-news, though many outlets are treating it as such now. "Everyone should be a lobbyist," Harvey says, and they (in a business that requires yearly negotiations with federal and local governments) have been doing it for over a decade. (By some homesteading standards, with Burning Man being pretty much the only long-term invested user in their particular bit of desert, one could argue it should be more their property than the BLM's.)

My February 2000 Reason cover story on Burning Man's relation with authority and authorities. I wrote on Burning Man's tortured relations with commerce for Reason in 2007.

NEXT: Affirmative Action and the Supreme Court

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  1. from what i read organized scalpers were buying blocks of tickets to free-market at a much higher cost thus the random drawing. >once again, predatory capitalism rears its behind

    1. What this says to me is that the organizers weren’t pricing the tickets high enough.

    2. Or, alternatively, attempts to wish away human nature backfire.

      1. exactly which is why many libtoidz deny reality

    3. Shocking, shocking, o3 doesn’t like “speculators”.

  2. “Everyone should be a lobbyist,”

    If there isn’t an “everyone but me” law out there with your name on it, you’re doing it wrong.

  3. The only references to burning Man I’ve seen in the media in the previous seven years is here. Inevitable fade out into discontinuity there.

    1. I’ll take Things No One Cares About for a hundred Alex.

  4. Stupid dicks, what the hell do they have against a festival? It brings money into whatever state it’s in. Let Nevada (or is it Utah?) host the festival on state land.

    I’m way different from the kind of hippies that love burning man, but it’s always seemdd to me to be a festival that would be fun/interesting to anyone. Everyone has some kind of crazy creation/art/fashion there. I remember seeing on TV this guy made a glove machine thingy that your hand movements control a giant hydraulic hand, and so with your hand you can pick up and move and drop a car like some small object. Awesome.

    1. It’s Nevada, and there really isn’t very much state land that they could host it on. Something like 86% of the land is owned by the Federal government. The bits that aren’t are either private homesteads, railroad, or are municipalities.

      1. > The bits that aren’t are either private homesteads

        Burning Man should contract with a private landowner instead of getting in bed with the government.

        Deal with a band of arbitrary force-using thugs, and wake up with fleas. Or, in this case, without a use permit.

        1. The problem is that the bits that are private homesteads are not suitable for the event. The reason it takes place where it does is that it is a dry lake bed with very little vegetation. That massively reduces the risk for wildfires, which are a perennial problem in Nevada. It also makes access to the site and cleanup much easier.

          The private homesteads, on the other hand, are almost all livestock ranches that chose their location based on available feed and water. That means they’re in areas with large amounts of vegetation and a high fire danger. I doubt any of them have a dry lake bed large enough to accommodate the festival, and I REALLY doubt any of them would be willing to clear an area large enough for the festival.

          1. I should note that the land use patterns in Nevada are all pretty much an artifact of unsuitable homestead regulations that the Feds established back in the mid-1800s. They treated Nevada like any other state and limited the size of homesteads, failing to take into account the fact that the Great Basin is a vastly different environment and requires a different approach to ranching. Because of the much lower amount of suitable vegetation per acre, they should have allowed homesteads to claim much larger areas to allow for grazing.

  5. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me dude.

    1. What have you done with TiggyFoo?

  6. Radical inclusion? Decommodification?
    I smell a rat anytime I hear fuzzy terms like these. Hope and change….

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