Ron Lewis / AP
Burning Man began three decades ago as a discreet gathering of friends who were celebrating the summer solstice on a West Coast beach in setting fire to a wooden man.
Now, the organizers of the event say that the gathering of arts, music and life-sharing counter-culture draws attention to the six personalities, resulting in a multi-month struggle with the Federal regulators to find out if its growing size will cause damage to the environment and even the event vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
The battle is gaining momentum as Burning Man officials attempt to obtain a new 10-year permit allowing the August rally in the Black Rock desert in Nevada to pass from its current capacity of 80. 000 to 100,000. But the Bureau of Land Management is cracking down.
In a recent report assessing the environmental impact of Burning Man, the BLM has limited the festival's population to 80,000, citing an abundance of waste generated by thousands of partygoers and a host of security concerns for visitors. lands protected by the federal government.
A preliminary BLM report called for new regulations, including a cap on participation, mandatory security checks and a concrete barrier to encircle the perimeter. Federal officials have since relaxed controls, with the exception of the population ceiling.
Nonetheless, long-time participants say the government's tight grip on the growing event threatens the anarchic principles that underlie the festival.
Burning Man officials said these initial proposals were an "existential threat."
"We want to live in a world with sharp edges," said Matt Scott, a long-time burner. "Where everything has not been perfectly protected from the baby for our protection."
Laura Beltrán Villamizar / NPR
Pushing to 100,000 meets the resistance
The festival is based near Gerlach, Nev., A dusty desert city of some 200 inhabitants. For years, federal land regulators and Burning Man organizers disagreed over controlling the number of participants in the event. The population generally increases by 800% during the Burning Man week, sending tens of thousands of people into a dry lake bed known as "playa".
Once considered a clandestine gathering for gypsies and free spirits of all stripes, Burning Man has since become a destination for social media influencers, celebrities and Silicon Valley elites.
An increase of 20,000 participants over the next 10 years would be unmanageable, said BLM spokesperson Rudy Evenson. Federal and local authorities are already dealing with other events that take place during Labor Day weekend.
One-third of all BLM law enforcement officers who patrol Burning Man, and federal officials say that if the event increases to 100,000, half of the country's BLM officers should be deployed.
This is the last battle of a standoff that has been going on for years between the BLM and the Burning Man organization on population growth. The BLM warned Burning Man to have exceeded the maximum population three times, the most recent of last year.
The agency is ready to approve the increase in the population ceiling, but only if a number of additional concerns about the environment and general safety are resolved.
The burners worry, the suggested solutions to these problems go against the ethics of the event in terms of environmental stewardship and a philosophy all-welcome, expressed by a phrase favored by the participants: "radical inclusion".
But for the moment, the organization says that no major changes are expected for 2019 and that she is "satisfied to remain stable".
Need security or excessive security?
The BLM suggested that with an event as important as Burning Man, the organizers needed to consider a kind of nightmarish scenario that became a common feature of large-scale, modern-day event planning: and if a terrorist attack occurred ?
As such, the federal government's draft plan provided for the installation of a 10-mile concrete barrier around the temporary city – a barrier that would replace an existing anti-waste fence – but this proposal was deleted at the final assessment after refoulement.
"Do we need the expenses, and will that really protect us from anything?" Scott asked. There are many more vulnerable sites outside the city entrance, he said.
"If someone wanted to try an event that made a lot of victims, why aim for the city when the reinforcement to enter or leave the city would be an easy target much easier?"
Some security experts see it differently.
"Of course, if the environment is vulnerable to vehicular attacks, having protective barriers is a relevant demand," said Michael Rozin, a former Israeli soldier specializing in counterterrorism security as the founding president of the consulting firm safe Rozin Security.
The BLM did not comment on the type of risk assessment it conducted, if any, to assess the likelihood of an attack. The agency only stated that she did not intend to change the security policy at the moment.
In public comments published by the BLM in response to the draft report, an anonymous commentator wrote that the barrier measure does not apply to an event populated by art cars, creatively modified vehicles used to browse the vast playa. "The interior of the event contains more than 30,000 vehicles," said the commentator at BLM. "Any of these vehicles could be used during an attack."
The BLM also proposed to use a private security company to search vehicles for drugs and weapons at the entrance to the festival.
"We are ready to push back this requirement," said the organization.
If ever mandated, the projections would subject "a peaceful gathering of people to searches with no probable cause," say Burning Man officials.
That's wasted time and resources spent on a largely non-violent population, said Jennifer Martin-Romme, a three-time burn. "I've never seen anything that could have turned into a fight in a bar."
Some burners said the addition of security screening would exacerbate the already long traffic jams that preceded the event.
Martin-Romme said that it was normal to spend up to 12 hours waiting for the portal. Add to this the searches of vehicles, and "it will take an hour to go through my things alone."
"Radical inclusion" collides with "leaves no trace"
The burners are supposed to bring all the necessary to build the community and survive in the extreme conditions of the desert. They are supposed to fill it without leaving any traces – human and other waste. Like a flashing mirage in the desert, Black Rock City disappears.
Evenson, spokesperson for BLM, said: "In general, they are excellent at the meeting. [the BLM’s] Standard."
But the organizers admit that this is not the reality and that local residents have valid complaints about waste left behind after the exodus of the event.
Some burners attribute this to the bad actors of the festivals. Remnants of winds blown by the wind and illegal dumps still reach Gerlach and the roadside and the two Paiute tribes outside Reno.
Increased traffic leads to trash, intrusions, vandalism, poaching and the spread of invasive plants in tribal reserves, said Rachael Youmans, who heads the Summit Lake Tribe's Natural Resources Department. Paiute.
The original territory of the tribe, where the Paiute settled, includes Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man stands. "Everything about the event has an impact on the tribe," said Youmans.
But since the reserve is about 100 miles from the event, she said, "the tribes' concerns about the environmental impact of the Burning event did not weigh heavily in the decision to whether or not to authorize the event, attendance levels. "
At the BLM's public hearings in April, Nevadians also complained about the waste and traffic infiltrating their communities long after the end of the festival.
"The trash on the roads is just incredible," said John Bogard, who owns a pottery shop 12 km from Gerlach for 45 years. Bogard hoped that the BLM would reduce the population that clogs the main roads that it borrows to get to the grocery store and other necessities.
But many Nevadians, including Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, say the annual economic benefit – about $ 63 million for the state, according to the BLM – and that works of art as the pilgrimage brings to the Reno-Sparks area make up for the inconvenience for many members of the community.
Some inhabitants of the Gerlach region do not agree. By the time the burners reach the city, they have already made their provisions in Reno or elsewhere. In addition, according to Mr. Bogard, potential customers are not willing to cross the heavy traffic during the week of engraving to buy his art.
The BLM assured Burning Man that it would not introduce dumpsters on the playa this year – a proposal included in a draft BLM report that sparked a stir in a proud community of Environmental stewardship – if participants could keep their waste control.
Trash cans would pose more problems, according to Dominic Tinio, who runs a team of employees and volunteers known as the catering crew, or "Resto", who spends three weeks after the exodus of Black Rock to clean the debris. "The dumpsters are a tricky business, producing debris and spills, not something that belongs to protected public lands," he said.
Tinio said that a campaign to develop messaging to prevent debris from the road is being prepared for this year.
Asked about the debris left after the event, Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, spokesman for Burning Man, said the organizers organized an annual "Leave No Trace" campaign to Educate participants on best environmental practices, starting with the survival guide "essential reading". In addition to the complete scan of Resto's post-event lines, teams of volunteers such as "Earth Guardians" and "Black Rock Rangers" teach the community how to reduce waste. The organization is also encouraging the use of carpooling and its "Burner Express" bus program to reduce its carbon footprint.
Jim Urquhart / Reuters
In the face of change, will the burners "bow" or "push back?"
The BLM's nearly 900-page countdown has been reviewed by the public throughout its decision to approve the Black Rock City permit allowing it to hold a legal meeting and under what conditions. Whatever the result, the beginner and veteran burners will unite in the Burning Man glow on the last night of the event.
Joe Bamberg is preparing for his 19th trip. He is the last original participant of his thematic camp, Shady Waffle, who serves a breakfast each year under a geodesic dome structure. He fears that "intrusive" measures in the future will deter people who make Burning Man from becoming a free community.
However, in August, the 68-year-old once again puts on his suit to become "Mrs. Josephine", a scout who offers other people homemade graphic buttons depicting the evolution of Burning Mans's past.
There is one entitled "Burning Baby", a tribute to the first humble Burning Man on the San Francisco Baker Beach; "Burning Boy" refers to the era of wild fireworks from 1990 to 1996 and a shooting range. "Burning Adolescence," the latest testimony in his series, recalls the event until 2007, featuring a frequent sighting that Bamberg claims to have never seen in recent years: a cyclist in prey to the flames.
This year he is thinking of creating a new button for novice visitors, inspired by the idea of makeover, the theme of the 2019 event – an appropriate theme that can perhaps double as a blink of an eye. look at the fight against the BLM that many burners dread. can definitely reshape the gathering.
Bamberg said some burners were of the opinion that "Oh, Burning Man is no longer good," he said, to which he does not totally believe, but he worries about the news BLM requirements, considering them as "far less reasonable than before."
The strength of Bamberg this year is how many resistance burners will come up – and if a strong opposition will even make a difference.
"There is a moment when they go too far," he said. "But I do not know how much we have to bow down or be able to stick to that."