Land Sailor appeals against Population Cap increase (updates)

Burners might be excited by the news of thousands more tickets, but it seems that not everyone is. Christopher Brooks, from the booming metropolis of Cotati, California, believes 61,000 Burners should all pack up and go home, so that the waves dunes will be more manageable for his little land sailor. He is appealing the population cap increase for environmental reasons, but he cares about protecting his race track, not nature.

20120721-131040.jpgChristopher Brooks’ appeal of the agency’s increase in the cap from 50,000 to 60,900 will be considered by the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

Brooks says Burning Man should not have been “rewarded” with the population increase cap since it was placed on probation by the BLM for exceeding last year’s crowd cap.

A land sailor from Cotati, Calif., he also says Burning Man is to blame for dunes that have prevented him and other groups from using the Black Rock Desert for their activities.

BLM spokesman Gene Seidlitz says he could not comment because the appeal is pending.

Clearly we are dealing with an individual with a strong sense of self-entitlement. We wonder what his contribution to the world has been, to justify the remarkable size of his ego [update – it appears that he did win an award last year for delivering a baby in an ambulance on Christmas Eve]. We also wonder how seriously his appeal will be taken by the BLM, given that their 3% revenue cut from Burning Man brings in $1.2 million a year. You’d have to do a helluva lot of land sailing to compete with that…

20120721-131021.jpgLand sailing considers itself a “sport”, and dates it’s origins back to Ancient Egypt and China. The Playa is 100 miles long, and Cotati is 335 miles away from it, in a completely different state. Surely Mr Brooks could find some way to share his precious Playa with others – maybe even design a race course that avoids the too bumpy Burning Man area? Or forget about the Playa and go to the Ivanpah dry lake bed near Primm, NV, where 2 land sailing speed records have been set? Too fast for you, Brooks? Perhaps you should invest in some better shocks.

Why should 61,000 people have fun, if it prevents 1 person going anywhere he wants in a massive desert to enjoy a strange hobby? What is this, a democracy? Majority rule?

If he were to actually win this questionable appeal, his tiny town of 7,000 might be faced with an invasion of 150,000 angry Burners in a bath-salts frenzy looking to stage a block party at his house. Occupy Cotati!

Can’t we all just get along?

[Update 7/22/12] – Christopher Brooks has visited us to comment on this story. In the comments below, you will notice that he attempts to link sand dune photos from the 1960’s to an art installation, to show that Burning Man creates sand dunes. However, at  his own site, and also in his own comments on,  he acknowledges that the photo was definitely taken many years before the art installation. Which makes it strange that he would try to imply otherwise here . He also acknowledges that Burning Man did clean up dunes last year – so what more does he want? On his site, he provides further information about the basis of this appeal:

I’ve gone ahead and appealed the 2012 Burning Man Permit, see  my June, 2012 appeal. Below are the three main points:

  1. I’ve received no evidence that Burning Man has ever received a  BLM-mandated Performance Evaluation.  Thus, BRC has never had a completed Special Recreation Permit (SRP).  The BLM Director has  stated that if the SRP process cannot be completed by the field office, then no SRP shall be issued.  The Performance Evaluation would determine if BRC fulfilled the stipulations of the SRP.  Cory Roegner has provided me with inspection reports but these reports do not cover all the stipulations.
  2. The 2011 Special Recreation Permit Decision states that there should be “a maximum of 50,000 participants.”  Stipulation 1 of the 2011 SRP permit states that the resources are “designed to handle an average of 50,000 participants per day.”  BRC has stated in the media that “the current permit allows ‘in the neighborhood” of 58,000 participants to be present at any one  time.”  Is BRC in violation of stipulation 1?  If so, then rewarding BRC by increasing the number of attendees is inappropriate.
  3. Burning Man is not a leave-no-trace event.  The dunes that appeared starting in 2000 have prevented other groups from using the desert.  The 2007 trash fence dune persisted until after the 2011 event.

In addition, BLM found that Burning Man went over the limit of 50,000 in 2011 and although Burning Man is appealing that finding, why should the BRC be rewarded?  Anyone can run a company that has increased income every year, but it takes a master to run a company that has roughly the same amount of income (tickets) per year.  If Burning Man is about sustainability, then maybe the process should start with a population cap?

As part of the 2012 permit process, I contacted the BLM and informed them about the annual performance evaluation requirement and they failed to prepare such a document for the 2011 permit. In hindsight, I should have gone for a stay to prevent Burning Man from selling extra tickets.  My guess is that the appeal will not be heard before the event.

While we applaud Mr. Brooks for coming here to explain his position, we don’t think that Burning Man should be either shut down or cut down because of the “playa serpents“. If you have ever been on the Playa during a dust storm, you will realize that although as Brooks says “the amount of dust blown off the Burning Man site is immense”, the amount of dust blown around a sandy desert by a dust storm is even more immense. Nature didn’t wait 15,000 years until Burning Man came to the Black Rock Desert to invent dust storms.

Perhaps the dunes should be considered as giant MOOPs, and bulldozed/graded by DPW. This might be better for Land Sailing, but it is arguable how beneficial it would be to the environment. We do agree with his point about the blinkered hypocrisy of BMOrg – for all the hoopla about Burning Man being “the world’s biggest Leave No Trace event”, it does leave a trace, it has an impact on the environment, the roads, and the surrounding communities. We agree that it would be more realistic to describe it as a “tread lightly” event.

[Update 2 7/22/12 9:42PM] Burning Man has finally responded to this story, in SFGate

Burning Man spokeswoman Megan Miller branded the claims as “meritless,” saying the dunes were not caused by the festival and organizers undergo strict scrutiny by the BLM.

“BLM conducts a whole battery of performance evaluations before, during and after each year’s event,” she wrote by email. “These evaluations include fall and spring inspections, inspection memoranda, after action reports, compliance memoranda and the recent environmental assessment itself. These documents more than satisfy BLM’s performance evaluation requirements.”

Gene Seidlitz, manager of the BLM’s Winnemucca Field Office, said he could not comment on most of Brooks’ claims because of the pending appeal.

However, he said a study by the Reno-based Desert Research Institute found the dunes on the Black Rock Desert stemmed from a variety of factors, including wind, the climate, and permitted and dispersed recreation use.

“They said the cause of the dunes was more complex. The sole nexus of the dunes was not the Burning Man event,” he told The Associated Press.

[Update 7/24/12] – Christopher Brooks has pointed interested parties to the discussion at ePlaya, where among other things he reveals that he is a 13-time Burner (since 1992) and he is one of the few (only?) people to have been shot at Burning Man. One of the “it was better in the old days” Burners then, perhaps this is some of the motivation to betray his people with this appeal. Methinks he’s probably not a fan of rave camps

14 comments on “Land Sailor appeals against Population Cap increase (updates)

  1. Admit it, burning man trashes the desert. Deserts are fragile and you can’t drop 50,000 people in the desert without trashing it. There is just no arguing against facts.

  2. Pingback: From “Sold Out” to “Shrinking”: Burning Man attendance down on last year | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  3. Pingback: 10 Ways That Burning Man Could Be Better | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  4. Pingback: See You On The Flip Side…? | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  5. Pingback: Modern Luxury announces: “RIP Burning Man (1986-2011)” | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  6. Pingback: Condition Alpha: Can you handle the Blow? | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  7. Pingback: Vendors take a hike | Burners.Me Burning Man commentary blog

  8. I read Mr. Brooks screed. And yes…one can see satellite views of the Playa that show tracks of previous years.

    But the surface change is minimal, and we humans are right to play and be happy….and for an event of this size, the cleanup is remarkable.

    Mr. Brooks also states that the large dust storms of 3-4 years ago were due to humans stirring up the surface……..funny, but I remember the storms starting many, many miles before the perimeter of BRC.

    The Enviro-Greenshirts should not have the last say in this. Seems like narcissistic publicity seeking.

    • The dust starts at Burning Man and is deposited downwind. Typically, the dust seems to start with the road in to BRC and seems to be worst at center camp. Last year, I was camped at 3:00 and Keyhole and we could see lots of dust just past the esplenade but we were in clear air. The winds are typically North-South, but South-North is common, so dust also gets deposited to the all around the playa and then blown around. I’ve been land sailing south of the city during the event and been hit by a dust storm during the event. To sum up, the dunes are worst, NNE of the BRC site, but there are dunes in all directions. There are the least amount of dunes where the desert get wettest because of wave and water action. Other nearby playas do not have recent dunes. Further study is warranted if we want to have Burning Man on the playa for the indefinite future.

      About “we humans are right to play and be happy”. BRC should drop “Leave No Trace” and move on to “Tread Lightly”. In 2008, the damage from the dunes was so great that bicycles had to follow car tracks because of the volume of dust. My question for you: How bad would it have to get for you to feel that there should be a limit in the population? If in 2013, there were serious dust storms from say 1pm until 11pm starting on Monday and bicycling was very difficult, would that do it? This seems like a good opportunity for the regionals.

      My appeal has three points: BRC allegedly violated the 50,000 limit, the BLM has never completed the permit process and the dunes are a problem. How do you feel about the other two points? Why has the BLM and the LLC only commented on the last point?

      I’m not interested in publicity, having people insult me is humorous at best. There have been some reasoned discussions about the points of the appeal. See

  9. Pretty sure Burning Man is not the source of the “dunes;” they happen naturally as frost heaves when late spring freezes expand moist areas of the Playa.

    • I’ve been able to find only one photo of the dunes that predates 2000. That photo is said to have been taken in the early 60’s. However, that photo is suprisingly close to the location of Michael Heiser’s 1968 land art piece. I’ve also not seen dunes like that on other nearby playas such as Blue Wing or the little playas behind the Black Rock. It is impossible to truly prove that something did not exist before a certain time, but I’d welcome photos of dunes earlier than 2000 on the Black Rock Desert.

      The amount of dust that is blown off the Burning Man site is immense. I was on the Black Rock in October a few years back and the downwind dust was like a wall. It was clear in one area and then 20 meters away the visibility was down to about 5 meters. That same trip we saw new dust being deposited on old desert pavement in the Northeast arm of the Black Rock.

      Also, the dune from the 2007 trash fence persisted until after the 2011 event when it was presumably removed as part of the Burning Man clean up.

      Check out my Black Rock Dunes site for details. There are a few reports from geologists as well. The 1970 paper by Neal, a privately produced report from the early 2000’s, a later report by DRI. There was also an article in the Reno paper from 2011 where I did not do so well.

      I’d be happier if the Burning Man website gave up on “Leave No Trace” and went with “Tread Lightly”. We do have an impact and being honest about it would help. Admitting that there is an impact and saying that it is worth it would go a long way.

  10. Elaine, I’m the guy who submitted the appeal. Your point about going somewhere else during the event is well taken. I’ve been to Burning Man many times and taken random burners out on my land sailor as part of my contribution to the event. The problem is not with the one week a year, the problem is that the dunes that started in 2000 are preventing other uses such as land sailing or the land speed record during the entire year.

    The BLM found Burning Man in violation of the 50000 limit in 2011. Burning Man is appealing that finding. It is bad public policy to set a limit, have a permit holder violate it and the increase the limit as a result. I’ve asked many long time burners if they thought that an event with 70,000 atttendees was twice as good as an event with 35,000 attendees and all of them have said without hesitation “NO”. Burning Man is great event and demand has outstripped the ability of the desert to heal.

    Burning Man is not a leave no trace event, see my Black Rock Dunes site for evidence.
    That site also has the text of my appeal.

  11. Seems to me someone is thinking a bit too much about himself. Burning Man is once a year, he can find another time and place to go do his thing. There is alot one can experience at Burning Man. Seems like a very selfish attitude to me. Like there are not over 50,000 other Burners there? What about their enjoyment?

Leave a Reply