The Only Trace You Leave is Love

by Whatsblem the Pro

Photo: Earth Guardians Blog /

Photo: Earth Guardians Blog /

There are a lot of concerns involved with the constant upward growth of the yearly Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, and not least among those concerns is the well-being of burner culture. Burning Man isn’t just an annual festival, it’s a way of life, all year long, and if the ability of burners to transmit their culture is overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of new people, the culture will be shoved aside to fade away, or be replaced by some lesser, diluted version of itself.

Today, the Org released information on a new volunteer team that you can join – the Leave No Trace Outreach Team – if you want to do your part and make your mark, and you care about things like the environment, or securing BLM permits for the future of Burning Man. The outreach program is intended to spread both the concept and the techniques of “Leave No Trace” and take some of the burden off the Playa Restoration Team, who stay on-playa an extra month to pick up every cigarette butt, every bit of paper and styrofoam and fabric, every feather, every discarded cup, can, and glowstick, every playa poop and every pee puddle.

It’s always tempting to say that maybe the Org should think about throwing money at a problem instead of relying too much on volunteers, and there is an argument to be made that the Playa Restoration Team in particular might be a good place to sink some fresh cash. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the caliber of volunteerism that Resto draws and tempers, for the kind of burner pride and character building it offers, for the camaraderie it breeds, and even for the groundscore opportunities it sometimes affords. As the population increases, though, the Resto team may need to grow quite a bit, and/or transition away from volunteerism toward more dedicated crew being paid reasonable wages.

Should the Org rely on paid hands to clean up our messes? Maybe, maybe not.

No matter how critical of the Org you are, you just can’t have it both ways: if it’s burners who make the party (and not the Org), then burners should get the credit (not the Org), and burners (not the Org) should clean it up, no matter what objections to unrelated profit motives we might have. Hopefully, there would be a Resto crew even if there was no Org at all.

Let’s not forget, too, that “Leave No Trace” was a Suicide Club/Cacophony Society value before it became one of Burning Man’s guiding principles. Those of us who lean toward the Cacophonist streams of burner culture should strive to be doin’ it right in the aftermath of our shenanigans, or at least, to support other people doin’ it right if we happen to be well-occupied with other things, like more shenanigans.

We’ve already got the Earth Guardians, of course, with lots of experience at doing outreach on the subject of LNT and playa preservation/restoration. They do outreach before, during and after Burning Man, have special teams to handle different aspects of LNT and playa stewardship, and even patrol the nearby hot springs. Are they not handling it, or is this the Guardians moving to the next level with a new campaign? Why is this LNT Outreach Team being touted as such a new thing? Is this a cooperative expansion of the Guardians’ own outreach efforts, meant to cope with the influx of new burners. . . or is it the Org shouldering the Guardians out of the way? We don’t know, but maybe our readers can tell us more in the comments.

Here is the scoop on the new LNT Outreach Team, straight from the Org:

The Leave No Trace Outreach Team is a newly formed team and they’re ready to recruit!

WHAT: Join the LNT Outreach Team
WHERE: Burning Man, Black Rock City
WHEN: 9am – 1pm shifts during Burning Man event. Sign up now!
HOW: Follow instructions at the end of this announce to sign up for a shift
CONTACT: audrey.whaling (at) burningman (dot) com. Include “LNTOUTREACH” in your subject line

We are launching a new volunteer program for environmentally minded folks:

The LNT Outreach Team – Leave No Trace on the Playa
Interested in protecting the playa surface? Want to teach BRC citizens how to do so? This year BRC is launching a new initiative to raise the bar on protecting the playa surface DURING the event. We’re looking for a few experienced, outgoing, morning volunteers to ride along with BLM scientists and talk to citizens about protecting the playa surface from “problems” such as burn scars, leaky fluids from vehicles and RVs, and improper waste removal. Change the world, one briny shrimp at a time, and feel good while doing it.

*Mission:* LNT Outreach Team will work with BLM scientists to assess and document playa problems and then teach participants HOW to fix them. We will not FIX problems for participants (ahem, radical self-reliance), but we will teach them HOW to FIX it for THEMSELVES. For instance, we might suggest they get a shovel and a bucket to scoop up their RV leaks, or point out where they could find some carpet or cardboard to put under their oil-dripping car. Outreach Emissaries will be trained in how to “fix” typical “problems” before going out into the field.

*Follow Through:* Each team will take pictures with fancy GPS for our long terms records (so we can show what we fix). Each afternoon, the data we collect will be passed along to Rangers and ESD/Fire Safety –who will make sure participants fix the problems that we can’t resolve during our morning shifts. After the event, Playa Restoration will visit all of our GPS records to make sure that we Leave No Trace. The idea is that by working together, we will protect the playa from inadvertent and additional surface damage that happens during the event.


· Monday- Saturday of the Event

· 9 AM -1:00 PM

· Everyday (9:00-9:30 will be prep meeting at Earth Guardians in Center Camp- then we will travel 9:30-1:00 PM)

· 7 teams each day – need back-ups on each day.- have 9 slots available each day.

· Lunch afterwards, pogs for all participants.

· Request that volunteers sign up for 2 shifts (you can do more), but contact us if you are interested and can only do one shift.

· We require a 2-hour Outreach Team Training on Saturday, pre-event, or Tuesday, during the event (1-3 PM), in order to participate.

· Veteran or experienced Burning Man volunteers are preferred.

*To sign up*

– If you haven’t yet created a Burner Profile or have not submitted a new Volunteer Questionnaire:
* click on Register to create a Burner Profile
* click on Volunteer Questionnaire to fill out and submit the form. Check Earth Guardians on the form to get access to Shiftboard.
* sign in to Shiftboard and look for Earth Guardians, “Outreach Team”, pick a shift.

– If you are already on shiftboard, look up “Earth Guardians”, and see if you can join our group directly. “Rosalie” is the Manager’s name. “Outreach Team” is the name of the shift.

– If all else fails, simply email using “LNTOUTREACH” in your subject line. Include your full name, interest and experience. We will add you to our shiftboard team where you will be able to sign up for a shift.

9 comments on “The Only Trace You Leave is Love

  1. 380 x 55,000 = 20,900,000… um, why can’t they put, like, $500,000 into providing shelter/H2O for the volunteer clean-up crew?

    • “Dear Mr. Harvey, people are now confusing you and your friends with the federal government. Therefore, we demand that you cease and desist your use of our trademark immediately, or have at you. Yours, Feral C. Lamprey, attorney at law”

  2. Burner culture? A way of life all year round? What utter tripe and nonsense! How much Kool-Aid did you drink before posting this? Your usual postings display a healthy skepticism and a sober approach but these comments sound like they could have come from the sanctimonious Halycon John (or whatever he’s called).

    I enjoy the event but don’t buy into the bullshit that it has cultural significance or is going to ‘save the world’. It’s continued growth may have introduced a more diverse group but the event has become, in my opinion, for most nothing more than a big party void of meaning. Sure people will pay lip service to the holy 10 principles but in reality there’s little if any real commitment to them.

    If anybody is really interested in preserving or ‘saving the playa’ then don’t drive a pollution belching auto (and RVs that pussies can’t do without) to the event and ban any and all activities that pollute the atmosphere (this would include explosions, fires, the cheap plastic shit people bring, and on and on). Of course this would make the event unrecognizable but what the hell is more important? The earth or the party?

    And as far as the LNT outreach team it sounds like another attempt by the BORG to recruit more free labor. We’re in the good ole USA, of course, and gotta keep those labor costs down!

    My assumption is that my comment could elicit a nasty response. I’m used to the bravery of people hiding behind pseudonyms so go ahead and fire away.

    • As you’ve noted, I’m no slouch when it comes to holding the Org’s feet to the fire. . . but we just don’t have sufficient information about this new outreach thing to reasonably do that, which is why the article asks our readers if they have any further information that might cast some light on the situation.

      You don’t believe there’s such a thing as burner culture? Maybe that’s because you instantly leap to the false assumption that living the burner life all year ’round has something to do with slavishly trying to live by the Ten Principles all the time as though they are sacred writ. I see a lot of people in my own community living the burner life, not to mention the way we run the house that I live in. It has nothing to do with foolishly trying to apply rules for a week-long desert festival to your every waking moment, and everything to do with the practical ways in which you mesh with the people whose company you choose to keep.

      Yes, the LNT outreach team DOES sound like another attempt by the Org to recruit more free labor, and I can hardly fault you for being cynical about it. . . but until we have more information on it — like, what role the Earth Guardians play in this story — it would be a bit yellow to leap to conclusions and claim that we know what’s going on.

      Thanks for your comments, it’s actually really nice to know you’re out there, and that we’re not alone in being critical of the Org. There are times when the entire landscape of Burning Man starts to look a lot like the early days of Jonestown, and comments like yours are a reminder that not everyone who goes to Burning Man is some kind of hypnotized patsy of the Org.

    • try going to a few pre-compressions, de-compressions, fundraisers, How Weird St fair, other festivals eg LIB and Symbiosis – there’s plenty of people living Burner culture all year round. I agree with Whatsblem about slavishly following BMOrg’s ever-increasing rule book, as being anything to do with Burner culture. Fuck yer day is one of the main Burner principles, Bacon probably another, We Do What We Want ™ and there’s not many more of them.

  3. Playa restoration is important. So important that if we didn’t deal with it properly, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy Burning Man on the playa at all. I know all of the awful planning and prep it takes to do it right is inconvenient, but it’s worth it if you really care about the community.

  4. While it is admirable to restore the playa, and thereby of course assuring another year’s permit, who is cleaning up the air and the surrounding atmosphere which is greatly affected by all of the shenanigans of the annual event?

    I am sure the downwind inhabitants breathing in all of the toxins released from all of the burning as well as living with the overall increase in carbon that is released could use some of this Burner Love too.

  5. Sounds like more random policing.
    Leave the habits of the default world…. …IN THAT BULLSHIT DEFAULT WORLD!
    We don’t need “Rangers and ESD/Fire Safety –who will make sure participants fix the problems that we can’t resolve during our morning shifts” crawling up our collective ass for every spill that might occur. I truly can’t believe I’m actually seeing ANOTHER “bureaucratic agency” being invented for a problem that could be effectively addressed with a little simple communication with the Tribe.
    NSA, TSA, CRF, IMF, FBI, CIA much?
    Silly Humans.

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