RENO, Nev. – Already reeling from a ticket snafu, organizers of the Burning Man counterculture festival on the Nevada desert now have another fight on their hands.
They’re challenging the federal government’s decision to place them on probation – and threats to pull their license – for exceeding the crowd cap last year at the largest outdoor arts festival in North America.
The Bureau of Land Management took the action against Black Rock City LLC after its offbeat art and music festival drew daily crowds of more than 53,000 on both Sept. 2 and 3 last year on the Black Rock Desert, 110 miles north of Reno.
BRC was issued a notice of noncompliance decision for exceeding the daily population cap of 50,000 allowed under terms of its special recreation permit for the weeklong celebration of radical self-expression leading up to Labor Day, said Gene Seidlitz, manager of the BLM’s Winnemucca Field Office.
It’s the first time Burning Man has been placed on probation since moving from San Francisco to the Nevada desert in 1990. The gathering, known for drum circles, decorated art cars, guerrilla theatrics and colorful theme camps, is overseen by the BLM because it’s staged on public land.
If organizers are placed on probation two straight years, Seidlitz warned, the agency may suspend or cancel Burning Man’s permit and/or deny future permit applications.
BRC is appealing the agency’s decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which has set no timetable for reaching a decision.
Burning Man spokeswoman Marian Goodell declined to comment because the matter is pending.
Seidlitz said Burning Man’s probationary status does not jeopardize this year’s event. His agency issues special recreation permits for the event on an annual basis, and has yet to grant one for this year.
The probationary status also will not delay the BLM’s action on an environmental assessment concerning the effect of BRC’s request to gradually increase the festival’s daily population cap to 70,000 over the next five years, he said. A decision is expected by early June.
Organizers’ request to increase the capacity comes after the festival sold out for the first time last year.