RENO — A California man’s appeal over federal land managers’ decision to increase the Burning Man festival’s attendance cap in the Northern Nevada desert has been dismissed.
The Interior Board of Land Appeals, in a ruling issued May 16, upheld the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s increase last year in the maximum daily crowd size from 50,000 to 60,900.
The offbeat art and music festival leading up to Labor Day draws tens of thousands of people from around the world to the Black Rock Desert, some 100 miles north of Reno.
The appeal, filed by land sailing enthusiast Christopher Brooks of Cotati, Calif., maintains the annual event should have been limited to 50,000 participants after the BLM placed its organizers, Black Rock City LLC (BRC), on probation for exceeding the 2011 attendance cap.
Brooks blames Burning Man for dunes that have kept land sailors and land-speed racers from using the Black Rock Desert for their activities, and contends BLM-mandated annual performance evaluations of the gathering have not been conducted.
But the national board ruled that the BLM followed its rules in authorizing the increase in the crowd size, and there’s no evidence to support Brooks’ position that Burning Man is causing an increase in dunes on the playa.
The BLM has worked to ensure that Burning Man has complied with terms of its special recreation permit, the board found, but is not specifically required to prepare an annual performance evaluation of it.
In November, the same board upheld the BLM’s issuance of a notice of non-compliance to BRC for exceeding the attendance cap of 50,000 at the 2011 festival.
That gathering drew daily crowds of more than 53,000 on two different days.
It was the first time Burning Man had been placed on probation since moving from San Francisco to Nevada in 1990.
The BLM had warned that if BRC was placed on probation two straight years, the agency may suspend or cancel Burning Man’s permit and/or deny future permit applications. Last year’s event drew a peak daily crowd of 52,385, down 1.7 percent from the previous year and well within the cap of 60,900.
While Burning Man also exceeded the daily attendance cap in 2006, 2007 and 2010, BRC was not issued a notice of noncompliance as those violations were resolved informally, BLM officials said.
Gene Seidlitz, manager of the BLM’s Winnemucca Field Office, said he was pleased with the federal board’s rulings in both cases.
“It further solidifies the fact that the decisions we made were compliant and defensible,” he said.
Brooks said he is glad he appealed the permit and is hoping the BLM will take the opportunity to improve its procedures for overseeing the event’s impacts.
“I initiated the appeal with a heavy heart,” Brooks said in a statement. “I believe that ultimately, Burning Man has been a positive influence on the lives of most of the participants. My issue is with the negative impact on a unique location. … My hope is that someday Burning Man buys property elsewhere.”
Ray Allen, government and legal affairs manager for BRC, hailed the board’s rejection of Brooks’ appeal.
“We don’t believe the claims of the appeal had any merit, and the IBLA came to the same conclusion,” he said. “BRC is working with the BLM to plan for this year’s Burning Man, and we are looking forward to another great event in the Black Rock Desert.”