More ice, more Exodus…more tickets? BLM publishes Burning Man 2012-16 Environmental Assessment

Download the full report here. It’s chock full of interesting information, here are some highlights so you don’t have to read the whole thing. Black Rock Field Manager Rolando Mendez at the BLM will be making the final decision on the population cap and acceptance of the report in June.

First, some good news: 3 Ice Camps now!

There will be three ice sales locations. In addition to Center Camp, there will also be ice sales at the Three and Nine O’Clock plazas. 

and the bad news: they are going to stack more cars at Exodus, which means releasing less. This will surely make it slower to get out

Gate Road is going to be widened for Exodus again this year. This will provide more space to stack cars instead of allowing too many cars onto the highway. For over half of the peak periods of Exodus, only one gravel lane will be used instead of two to avoid too many cars on the highway. 

What about ticket numbers?

Significantly, the report discusses 3 alternatives.

Alternative 1 increases the permit size from 50,000 to 58-70,000. This is the proposed alternative, which is good news for BMOrg who have already sold 58,000 tickets. The authorized officer would be empowered to decide the attendance within this range, so there could well be another 12,000+ tickets coming

Alternative 2 keeps the permit at the current 50,000 level; no explanation of what would happen to the additional 8,000 tickets in this case.

Alternative 3 is “do nothing”, by which they mean don’t approve the event or move it somewhere else. They assume that this will cause a lot of headaches because Burners will show up anyway, like the thousands who attend with no permit for 4th of Juplaya. This sounds like such uncontrolled chaos that they can rule it out and not seriously contemplate it as an option.

Just as the event moved from Baker Beach to Black Rock Desert in 1990, the event could move again. If the event were to move and to continue to have the potential to result in impacts on public lands, it could still necessitate a SRP. Three likely scenarios under the No Action Alterna-tive are: 

A large informal gathering at the playa, smaller than the Proposed Action and comprised of an unknown portion of participants intending to attend the Burning Man event; 

 Smaller gatherings spread out over the year at various locations; and/or 

 A substitute event located off of BLM Winnemucca District-managed lands.  

For instance, an informal event known as “4th of Juplaya” has attracted roughly 2,000 to 3,000 people (BLM 2011). Although not officially affiliated with BRC or Burning Man, it is a similar gathering since many of the attendees are Burning Man participants. Additionally, with the sell-out of Burning Man in 2011, alternative (unpermitted) gatherings were advertised on the Internet. Because actual numbers of event participants or locations are not possible to predict, qualitative impacts have been described for the No Action/No Event Alternative. 

 Here’s a selection of further highlights from the 328 page report, starting with some history…

In December 2000, the 106th Congress passed The Black Rock Desert–High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (NCA) Act, (Public Law 106 554). This legislation designated almost 800,000 acres of public land as part of the NCA and approximately 752,000 acres as Wilderness areas. The legislation contains language that sup-ports the permitting of large-scale events that were permitted to occur prior to designation, such as Burning Man 

Don’t let BMorg fool you. The Feds are convinced that Burning Man is for profit.

Special Recreation Permits (SRP) are required when a recreational activity on public lands falls into one of the following categories: (1) Competitive Uses; (2) Vending; (3) Organized Group Activities and Event Uses; or (4) Commercial Uses. Burning Man falls under the category of Commercial Uses, which is defined as “recreational use of public lands and related waters for business or financial gain. When any person, group, or organization makes or attempts to make a profit, receive money, amortize equipment, or obtain goods or services, as compensation from participants in recreational activities occurring on public lands, the use is considered commer-cial” (BLM 2011). 

They asked the public for submissions in relation to the new 5 year permit, and 120 people submitted responses. It seems not everyone loves Burning Man

In late 2010, a 43-day public scoping period was conducted to solicit issues and other comments from the public and cooperating agencies. The scoping period began on November 1, 2010 and was scheduled to close after 30 days. However, after numerous requests from the public, BLM extended the scoping period until December 13, 2010. 

A news release was printed in several local and regional newspapers and letters were sent to indi-viduals and organizations that had participated in the process in past years. Over 260 pages of written comments from nearly 120 commenters were received during the scoping period. Addi-tional comments were also received at the open house meetings held in Lovelock, Gerlach, and Reno on December 7, 8, and 9, 2010, respectively 

Who counts as part of the permit? Well, not government employees, not emergency medical staff, and not vendors:

The population includes all attendees of the event, including paid participants, volunteers, and contractors. The population does not include government personnel, Humboldt General Hospital emergency service providers, and vendors. 

Yes vendors. If Burning Man would allow people to sell things like water to Burners, then we could get thousands more people out to the Playa.

Burning Man takes over the Playa for 2 months

The total permit period would extend from approximately the first week of August through the first week of October each year, with the actual Burning Man event occurring from the weekend before Labor Day through Labor Day each year. 

The event would last 192 hours (8 days) starting no earlier than 12 PM on the Sunday that falls eight days before Labor Day and ending no later than 11:59 PM on Labor Day. For 2012, the event would commence at 12:01 AM the Monday before Labor Day, and end at 11:59 PM on Labor Day. 

For the first time, they are considering letting us in during the day time on Sunday

The Proposed Action would potentially use daytime opening and closing times on a trial basis for the first year to allow for safer ingress and egress to the event for staff and partici-pants by maximizing use of daylight hour 

Don’t think that just because there are a lot of Hippies present, that Burning Man is all eco-friendly.

Fuel (e.g., gasoline, diesel, wood, propane) would be used for transportation, power generators and open burning. The applicant rented 34 generators to power its operations during the 2011 event and surveys taken during the 2011 event found participants used 213 generators for art projects, 1,124 generators for theme camps and motor homes, and another 550 engines for mobile art or mutant vehicles. The level of traffic, fuel sources, and fuel use associated with 58,000 to 70,000 people would be greater than the 2011 levels in proportion with population 

…then there’s the airport…

In 2010, 1,253 total operations and 630 landings occurred during the Burning Man event, and in 2011, there were 2,062 total operations and 978 landings during the event (BRC 2012).

and almost a thousand port-a-potties to pimp

The number of toilets would be based on BRC’s expected population (e.g., there were approximately 900 toilets available for the 2011 event) 

…not to mention 6 million gallons of water and 600 cubic yards of decomposted granite

Approximately six million gallons of water per year would be obtained from groundwater wells at Fly Ranch to water approximately 55 miles of street and five miles of gate road on a daily basis and all truck entry points and dunes within the City would be watered during event clean-up. 

Approximately five- to six-hundred cubic yards of decomposed granite would be used on an annual basis, but the total amount would vary based on the quantity and scale of burnable art projects. Between 25 and 30 truck trips would be required to take the decomposed granite along County Road 34 to the gravel pit south of Soldier Meadow Road for staging. Additional truck trips would be required to bring the decomposed granite to the event location via the 12-mile access road as needed. Following the event, the vendor would be responsible for hauling away any used and leftover decomposed granite to private land in the region. 

How big is Black Rock City? For 70,000 people, we are talking 6500 feet across (1.23 miles).

The City would be laid out in an arc centered on the sculpture of The Man. The arc would have a radius of approximately 3,020 feet for a population size of 58,000 people and would expand to 3,250 feet with a population of 70,000 people by adding an addi-tional street and a few blocks for overflow on the left side of the City near 10:00 (see Figure 2-2). 

The total area encompassed by BRC within the perimeter fence (not including the event access road) would be about 3,200 acres or approximately 3 percent of the total area within the Black Rock Desert playa …

The residential portion of BRC would include about 820 acres for a population size of 58,000 people and would expand to up to 950 acres with a population of 70,000 people. Several hundred additional acres outside the perimeter fence would be used for access roads, a temporary airstrip, airport parking, the BLM communications center, a ticket booth, a greeters’ station, and a 50-yard buffer area immediately outside and adjacent to the perimeter fence. It is likely that gate entry points would increase in parallel with population growth by as much as 20 additional acres between populations of 58,000 and 70,000 people. 

Although the city takes up nearly 1000 acres, the whole area that is closed off to the public is 14,153 acres. The fence which goes around the perimeter is seven miles long

The 2011 Public Closure Area was approximately 14,153 acres in size and the same area has been proposed for the 2012-2016 Public Closure Area. The “event area,” is defined as the por-tion of the Public Closure Area that is: (1) within the event perimeter fence; and includes (2) a 50-foot buffer outside of the event perimeter fence; (3) a 25-foot buffer outside of the event access road; and (4) the aircraft parking area outside the event perimeter fence 

It’s interesting also to look at what they considered in the study, but then confined to the “Too Hard” basket:

Alternatives suggested in scoping efforts and that have been considered but eliminated from detailed analysis in this document include: 

 Hold Burning Man on private land or an alternate BLM location to reduce impacts (see Sec-tions 2.4.1 and 2.4.2). 

 Rotate the site annually to reduce impacts on a single area (see Section 2.4.3). 

 Split Burning Man into several smaller events to reduce its “boom and bust” impacts on the local environment, community, and economy (see Section 2.4.6). 

 Limit the attendance at an arbitrary cap or set a limit based on winter water on the playa (see Section 2.4.6). 

 The Summit Lake Paiute Tribe believes that the land needs to “heal” after the Burning Man festival. The Event needs to alternate between the playa and a more distant location, for exam-ple, from the just north of Empire, or Cedarville, or closer to the Burning Man Ranch near Hualapai …

A minimum age limit for attendance was suggested during scoping. The Burning Man event complies with all laws and regulations, none of which require an age restriction. Participants have chosen to be at the event and/or have paid for a ticket. Therefore, whether a minor should attend is up to the discretion of his or her parent or legal guardian. Additionally, as stated in the Operating Plan (Appendix 2), the applicant would develop and implement a plan to address exposing minors to adult activities at the event. The plan would include measures such as educating and requiring parents/guardians to supervise their children, zoning the city, and making every effort to educate adult-related theme camps about the need for having a gatekeeper during hours when the camp might not be suitable for minors 

…and they also looked at a different route that bypassed Gehrlach, but this was knocked back due to concerns about the economic impact on Gehrlach’s stores

This alternative was considered due to traffic and playa surface (road scar) concerns. Under the Revised Access Road Alternative, participants would access the playa at its south-southeastern end via Jungo Road/State Route 49 or along the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) right-of-way (ROW) instead of using the proposed 8-Mile playa entrance. 

Approval by UPRR would be required for use of the railroad ROW as the access road. In addi-tion, there would be traffic safety concerns associated with crossing and encroachment of the access road along the active UPRR ROW. Due to the playa gradient, water is retained in the South Playa area, which would increase the likelihood that access from the southern end of the playa via Jungo Road/State Route 49 would be difficult and/or infeasible during the event period. Additionally, if the turn-off to the event was south/east of Gerlach as it would be for either of these options, traffic would turn into the event from a more traveled section of roadway along State Route 447, which could increase traffic congestion and safety concerns. The alternative would reduce vehicle traffic through the Town of Gerlach, which would likely reduce visitors to the town and the associated economic benefits. 

Finally, stuck right at the end – confirmation that Burning Man intends to sell maybe thousands of tickets at the gate

BRC LLC is monitoring ticket sales and historical trends to ensure that the population does not increase above our managing capacity. BRC/LLC is prepared to stop ticket sales if it determines that the population has increased beyond our ability to handle the population. The phrase “unlimited ticket sales” no longer appears in our ticket purchasing information, so there is no expectation in the community that we cannot stop ticket sales if we feel the need. If BRC/LLC stops ticket sales then this will be announced on our website, in the Jack Rabbit Speaks and at the Box Office. However, if BRC/LLC stops sales then it will reserve a limited number of tickets to be sold at the Box Office for participants who show up at the Gate and have nowhere else to go. This will avoid the issue of loitering in Gerlach and Empire, as well as avoid camping in the Closure Order area. This small number of tickets will already be factored into the overall number of participants that BRC can support. 

Based on the declining crime trends over the last few years (due to changing demographic and increased educational efforts of participants), as well as population predictions for this year, and increased BRR presence and readiness, BRC/LLC feels that there will be adequate law enforcement for this year despite an increased population 

do I look like a fucking greeter?

This sounds positively Orwellian!

This year BRC is making the following improvements to the city layout which will provide enough room for the population, as well as the right amount and location of civic areas where participants can be acculturated so they become responsible citizens. 

Fireworks are prohibited, unless you get a pyro permit

BRC/LLC recognizes that the use of personal fireworks or sale of fireworks is prohibited. A sign stating this will be prominently placed at the site entrance by BRC/LLC no later than 5 days prior to the start of the event. BRC/LLC shall take reasonable precautions to prevent the use, sale, and/or distribution of fireworks. Only fireworks and pyrotechnics planned, scheduled and approved by BRC/LLC in coordination with the PCSD will be permitted. Use of any unapproved explosive, fire or incendiary device, will not be allowed. 

54 comments on “More ice, more Exodus…more tickets? BLM publishes Burning Man 2012-16 Environmental Assessment

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  2. In fact my boyfriend is never quite sure where it all appears from, nor seems to share my belief that it is all extremely useful! However, the same can be true for foreign bodies stuck in ears, noses and throats.

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  9. Pingback: It’s official: MORE TICKETS! | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

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  22. Oh and also … we’re not selling tickets at the Gate, and nobody should show up just expecting to be able to buy one there, because it’s not going to happen. We DO have tickets available at the Gate for people who lost their tickets and can PROVE that they’d purchased them (e.g. they’re in our ticket database, or they have a proof of purchase in hand) … that’s what the report is referring to: an emergency/contingency reserve.

  23. Hi folks … everything that Bobzilla said is correct, including — most importantly — that the 70,000 population cap is what we’d grow to by the END of this 5-year permit, NOT this year. Just trying to dispel the rumor that we could go to 70k this year before it starts.

  24. Pingback: In the BLM’s own words: “population level increasing to 70,000″ | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  25. I thought that Ice was always sold at 3 place on Playa…Every year I go they do at least. And another thing in you comment about the tickets,”…another 12000 coming..”This may be true but is not for this year. It will gradually increase over the next 5 years to make the 70000 the 5th year of the contract. I’m sorry if I’m wrong here but From reading the website to reading this, I have to wonder if you have even been to the playa yet. Several post you have made are correct but smothered with misinformation of sorts.

    • Perhaps you should read some of the documents I’ve linked to, Parker. The decision on numbers is at the sole discretion of the BLM. BMOrg has asked for a gradual increase over 5 years, but is obviously confident enough on their permit chances to sell 58,000 tickets already, as well as the several thousand more they’re expecting to sell at the gate (rather than turn people back to Gehrlach). The new Environmental Impact assessment discusses what it would mean if the number increased to 70,000. There is no wording I can see that prevents the BLM from approving that number for this year- remember the report is a suggestion, not something cast in stone. But it does say that no extra law enforcement would be required to increase to that number.
      I’ve asked around about the ice, some people were aware of the extra ice camps for the last couple of years, most I’ve spoken to didn’t know. Yes, I have been to the Playa – the first time in 1998, and another 8 times since. I have seen Burning Man change a lot, I have also seen a lot of problems persist or worsen. The worst problem of all is this “Burner than thou” attitude, where Burning Man is special and only BMorg can make money, and you’re supposed to be broke, camping in a yurt, and riding around in other peoples art cars on their dime to be a “true” Burner.

      • >I’ve asked around about the ice, some people were aware of the extra ice camps >for the last couple of years, most I’ve spoken to didn’t know.

        Then they clearly did not take the time to read the survival guide, read the JRS, read the info they got at the gate, listen to BMIR , etc. I am part of the BMORG and we pushed that information out extensively.

        There is no infrastructure to support a 70K population this year. That is the simple fact.

        BMIR Station Manager

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  28. You’ve got to learn to read/speak “Regulator” better. Whether BMOrg is an LLC or a Non-Profit, they will still be regarded as a commercial enterprise for the purposes of the permit because they “receive” money” “as compensation from participatns in recreational events…” i.e., nothing to see here, move along, it’s not some special issue or telegraphing something we don’t already know about the organization.

    Also, you’ve presented, but not emphasized, the very BEST news in the whole permit which is this: “Based on the declining crime trends over the last few years…as well as population predictions for this year, and increased BRR presence and readiness, >>BRC/LLC feels that there will be adequate law enforcement for this year despite an increased population<<

    Increased LE presence every year, despite no need for that increase, has been a big issue because LE has used events like this as a candy-store for years–they have been the ones doing the assessment, and no surprise, they always conclude that more is needed. And the permittee has no real option other than to just pay the costs. Here, it appears that the Org has convinced the BLM that enough is enough. That's actually a big deal for any event on public land. Yay BRC/LLC!!

    • Neither LE or the BLM did the assessment. It was too big of a job. BMORG hired an outside consultant.

    • I agree that it’s great news that they don’t think any more LE is required. I will wait til we get the final verdict on the report from the BLM in June before getting too excited though. If they do approve more tickets, they may attach this type of request to it.

  29. I can guarantee you there will not be another 12K tickets coming. The new permit asks for a growth to 70K over five years. There needs to be infrastructure to support a population that large and it won’t be in place for this year

  30. >First, some good news: 3 Ice Camps now!

    There were three ice camps last year as well (and I believe the year before too)

    >Don’t let BMorg fool you. The Feds are convinced that Burning Man is for profit.

    It has always been for profit, it’s an LLC. No one ever tried to fool anyone about this. It’s not the BMORG’s fault that people don’t know what an LLC is. They are however now transitioning to a 501-(c)3.

    >Yes vendors. If Burning Man would allow people to sell things like water to >Burners, then we could get thousands more people out to the Playa.

    How do you come to this conclusion?

    >Fireworks are prohibited, unless you get a pyro permit.

    Fireworks have been prohibited for years.

    >Finally, stuck right at the end – confirmation that Burning Man intends to sell >maybe thousands of tickets at the gate

    It’s a problem. Idiots show up with out tickets and then hang out in Gerlach and at the gate. They have no way to get back. It becomes our problem, We can either let them die in the desert, bus them back to Reno or sell them a ticket. Some yokel who shows up in his SUV with no tickets probably isn’t going to get one of these tickets. He has the ability to go back. I disagree that this translates into thousands of tickets.

    • Permitted fireworks would include for example the F.L. Girls’ show last year.

      There’s no reason Gerlach should treat people who show up unprepared differently than does any other part of the planet. I don’t understand the value of mercy in this case. Let them learn the cost of self-entitlement.

      • >Permitted fireworks would include for example the F.L. Girls’ show last year.

        Indeed. Consumer fireworks have been banned for a long time with good reason. I know several people who have lost tents to bottle rockets that came down on it and burned huge holes. In addition there are lots of containers of fuel laying about on the playa.

    • Last year they officially sold 54,000 tickets, the permit says 50,000, that’s how I get “thousands of tickets at the gate”. If these tickets didn’t go at the gate, where did they go? The permit allows vendors in addition to the permitted number; if vendors were allowed, there could be 1000 or more of them. Burning Man is for profit, it’s clear to me, but why can’t there be vendors? Why can’t someone – even BM themselves – sell water? There could be 1000 water girls allowed in, on the existing permit. It’s great that there have been 3 ice camps for a while – progress!

      • The number of tickets sold don’t actually equal out to the number of people on the playa at any given time. Peak population is set at 50K but population at the event varies over the course of the event. Some people leave on Wed (hard to believe but true), some show up on Friday, etc.

        As for water vendors if we have 1000 “water girls” are they really participating? What about the whole radical self reliance? Are you proposing they sell water in bottles? Imagine the trash that would generate. You can already buy water in Gerlach. They have been selling water in Gerlach for the past two years. You can fill up your jugs there. Burning Man is a no vending event. Saying we can get a thousand more people out there if we have 1000 people vending water is the same as saying we can have 1000 more people if they send another 1000 cops.

      • One thing you don’t get is that all these regulatory reports and such are done based on a set of assumptions. You change the assumptions, and the report changes as well.

        The part where the Hospital, vendors, police, etc don’t count is something that’s been negotiated and agreed upon in an effort to get an accurate measure of true participant counts. If the ORG starts mucking with/gaming with that stuff, the BLM stance would change dramatically.

        It’s important for you to remember that although the BLM have the power and control, the ORG has really tried to work with them and foster a partnership culture in working with them.

      • I think 1000 water girls would be preferrable to 1000 cops. And much more beneficial to the community. Taking a look at the accident statistics, it seems like dehydration is a serious problem. People die at Burning Man. Vendors are already there, selling ice, coffee, and RV dumps. Where do you draw the line? Why is coffee “Burner” but water is “evil commodification”?

      • I think ‘vendors’ refers to the service providers hired by participants and bmog. Truck drivers, port-a-potty guy. I do not think it means ‘people who sell stuff get a special ticket’

      • @sam – we have a winner – vendors = those under contract, not new hamburger sales.

        Vendors: Portojohns, Permitted RV Service Crew, Green Tortoise Drivers, dust mitigation (water truck), truck drivers who drop off trailers and leave, ice truck, REMSA, etc.

        BM does sell water already… Buy ice and wait for it to melt.

  31. Noticed that the average vehicle occupancy is 1.58 people per vehicle.

    50,000 people = 31,645 vehicles ! Yikes

    I propose a $25 per vehicle entrance fee in addition to ticket price. If you want to show up in a car by yourself, fine “25 bucks”. If you show up in a van with 4 people, “Fine, 25 bucks”, if you show up in a bus with 20 people, “Fine, 25 bucks”.

    Getting the vehicle usage up to even 2 people per vehicle would drop 6648 vehicles from the event !!! Two people per vehicle seems like modest and reasonable goal.

    Getting it to even 3 people per vehicle would drop close to 15,000 vehicles!! Imagine how much nicer Exodus would be with 15K fewer vehicles.

    I think it’s pretty reasonable to say that even with 6700 fewer vehicles, BM would be a far more enjoyable and have far less environmental impact.

    (I realize that the vehicle count is not just participant vehicles, but nonetheless something to encourage higher vehicle occupancy would certainly make an impact)

    • A surcharge per vehicle is a great idea. Nor is it a hardship, considering the vehicle operator is already in for gas and maintenance and other expenses. Even though I typically drive my friend’s truck solo, I would happily pay this to reduce the overall vehicle count.

    • Very few people die at Burning Man and those that do, don’t die from dehydration. There is shitoads of water on the playa yet people are treatred for dehydration. Is it because they didn’t have access to water? Could not get any? No, it was because they were stupid and didn’t drink any. They failed to take care of themselves. Walk into ANY camp and tell them you really need a drink of water I gaurantee you, you will be accomodated.

      Vendors are not there selling coffee. The BMORG sells coffee in the Center Camp Cafe only and all the profits go to local Gerlach charaties and the local schools. Sale. Same with ice sales. It’s not private vendors making cold hard cash. Porta pottie servicers do provide RV servicing. They have the worst job on the playa. People treat the portapotties horribly the least we can do is give those guys the opportunity to make some personal cash.

      No one needs coffee it’s a luxury. You can easily survive a week on the playa without coffee (you may not want you). You can’t survive without water. It is made perfectly clear that you need to bring EVERYTHING you need to survive a week in the desert. Radical self reliance.

      • Absolutely! My boyfriend and I brought 30 gallons of water between us, and in the end only used about 15 gallons, and we were present for the entire event, Monday-the following Tuesday. We were able to gift at least 5 gallons to our neighbors, as well as several refills to random Burners exploring the city. I think the core value of Radical Self-Reliance is (and should be) set in stone. It’s a slippery slope once you start allowing for-profit vendors into the event. If BMorg were to set up water vending stations, with all proceeds going to local charities (such as coffee sales) then that’s something that should be considered, but I also think that it should be sold by the gallon and those looking to purchase should have their own containers. NO SINGLE-SERVING WATER BOTTLES!!! Grow up, and take care of yourselves people, or go to Coachella to buy your $10.00 bottles of water.

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    • you could start at Camp Guantanamo for some waterboarding, then go over to Camp MKULTRA for some Clockwork Orange acculturation, so that when the Man burns, you can REALLY go mad!

  34. thanks Snorky. Yes the idea of Burgins being “acculturated” in special zones sounds a little like Orwell – or maybe Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”.

  35. Great article.

    Do you think the word ‘acculturated’ is the Orwellian part? The Burning Man culture is unique and I’d like to see it spread more. Especially with so many newbies coming. I wouldn’t mind seeing more about that.

    Its far from a green event hey. Perhaps some environmental rehabilitation areas across the country would assist with the balance here. Places where Burners can plant trees and work on fixing areas that are stuffed.

    Good to see those stats there. Not a lot of people are going to read these reports, so big ups to you for summarizing it here.

    More of all… 🙂

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