Burning Man begins major cleanup after heavy rain litters campsites

Burning Man visitors who left their tents, vehicles and trash at the site after a mass exodus from the remote Nevada desert this week returned to the site Wednesday to begin the Herculean task of cleanup, organizers said.

The annual week-long cleanup following the festival may be more challenging this year as torrential rains covered the grounds and campsites in ankle-deep mud and caused some visitors to abandon belongings that they had brought with them to the venue, called Black Rock City.

Festival-goers who left early because of the storm “are returning to the venue today through Saturday to dismantle their projects, demolish their camps and remove their possessions,” the Burning Man Project said in a statement Wednesday evening.

A team will also begin removing trash from highways leading to the venue on Friday, organizers said. The event takes place in a vast desert area called the “Playa.”

A special recreation permit that allows the festival to be held in the desert requires organizers to “restore the playa to its natural state,” Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management said Thursday.

“After the exodus, the Burning Man team will have three weeks during which they will clear the entire event area and collect all items and trash,” spokeswoman Rita Henderson said in a statement. “They also clean along the country roads leading to and from the event.”

During the first week of October, the office and organizers would inspect points in the area to determine whether the cleanup was acceptable, she said, adding that if the office determined the cleanup was unacceptable, it would schedule an appointment with the Arranging organizers for this will address the issues.

The task of cleaning up the site could be greater this year as some visitors fled without getting back on their feet before a mass exodus on Monday after heavy rain over the weekend flooded the streets and had blocked access to the main gate of the festival, leaving visitors in virtual lockdown. A 32-year-old man, Leon Reece of Truckee, California, died at the rain-soaked festival on Friday. While the cause and manner of his death remain unknown, drug intoxication is suspected, the Washoe County District Court Office said in a statement this week.

Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said Monday that while every year “large amounts of property and trash are scattered from the festival to Reno and beyond,” this year “is a little different with numerous vehicles throughout the festival.” Playa are scattered several miles.”

“Some participants were unwilling to wait or use the beaten path to attempt to exit the desert and had to abandon their vehicles and personal property where their vehicle came to rest,” Allen wrote in a statement.

Burning Man organizers said Wednesday that “all but one of the vehicles stuck in the mud in the Burning Man restricted area have been freed.”

Ecological damage

Burning Man’s environmental impact on the Black Rock Desert Playa and its greenhouse gas emissions have worried environmental groups for years. Climate activists blocked the entrance to Burning Man, claiming festival organizers were “greenwashing” the event.

The festival’s carbon footprint is an estimated 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide, according to its sustainability roadmap. This corresponds to the emissions from the electricity consumption of more than 19,000 households over the course of a year. according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator.

The Bureau of Land Management The number of visitors to the festival was limited to 80,000 people in the festival’s most recent approval from 2019 to limit noise, air and light pollution and other damage to species.

Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said he had seen social media posts showing native vegetation like iodine and salt bushes being trampled and driven through as people expelled the Black Rock Desert Playa fled. He also worried that festival traffic would disrupt rare species of branchiopods that live on the playa, hatch when it rains and feed migratory birds.

After previous Burning Man events, a study found that some species had done this 50% fewer eggs in parts of the playa used for the festival.

But the festival only takes up about 5 to 10 percent of the playa, Donnelly said, so the impact is not widespread.

Donnelly said he wasn’t particularly worried about the trash festival-goers left behind. He said he drove around the playa about two weeks after last year’s Burning Man, looking for trash and other evidence of its impact.

“I looked for evidence and couldn’t find it. I think they have a pretty good track record of fixing their problems and fulfilling the promises they made to BLM. I hope they continue to do that and clean up all this stuff,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly said he believes Burning Man is a target for criticism because of its rich attendance and “tech-bro” culture, but added that “no one has a vacation without repercussions.” He hopes the newfound attention to the Black Rock Desert Playa will spark more interest in conservation efforts.

“Most of the outrage about this is that people want to get involved in Burning Man, but it would be nice if some of it reflected the general enthusiasm for protecting public lands in Nevada,” Donnelly said, adding that he sees mining as a greater threat to Nevada’s public lands.

“Leaves no trace”

As he prepared to pack up and leavee Longtime Burning Man visitor Terry Gault said it was “not surprising to hear that trash was left behind.”

Gault said that wasn’t the case near his camp, which is surrounded by “veteran distillers.”

“So for the people who left trash behind, these are not real burners,” he said. “You probably shouldn’t be out here anyway.”

In their statement, festival organizers reminded attendees that leaving no trace when leaving is a core principle of the community.

“All participants are expected to unpack everything they brought with them and clean their campsite before leaving town,” the statement said.

Dr. Brad McKay, a writer who said it was his sixth visit to the festival, said the heavy rain was “unprecedented” and that “many camps that were there simply weren’t prepared for something like this to happen.” . “There was just a lot of chaos, a lot of confusion and a lot of people trying to survive very quickly in very adverse conditions.”

“Some people actually panicked, got into their vehicles and then just got stuck in the mud, couldn’t get out at all and had to abandon the vehicles,” he said.

McKay said he was concerned about bicycles, tents and other trash left behind in the area, where thick mud made it difficult to see the trash left behind.

“We did our best,” he said, referring to his 22-member camp. But others left in a hurry.

“It’s very difficult to leave no trace when you’re trying to get away quickly in a terrible environment,” he said.

Brian Ashcraft

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