July 5, 2015

BLM’s Burning Man requests outrageous


Strip VIP hosts are breathing sighs of relief from Wynn Las Vegas to Mandalay Bay. They might have their hands full satisfying all kinds of requests from their guests this holiday weekend, but they know they could be stuck with far more outrageous demands. They could be dealing with the BLM.

If Nevadans needed any more proof that U.S. Bureau of Land Management leaders are arrogant, entitled and disconnected, they need only read a tremendous series of stories recently published by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Rugged outdoorsmen need not apply to the Interior Department. As reported by the newspaper’s Jenny Kane, the BLM asked the organizers of the upcoming Burning Man counterculture festival to build a million-dollar luxury compound — supplied with a ridiculous list of snacks, food and amenities at the festival’s expense — to accommodate the federal employees charged with staffing Black Rock City later this summer. The request, which would raise the festival’s land use costs to roughly $5 million, has become a stumbling block for organizers, who need a permit from the BLM to stage their event in northwestern Nevada.

Burning Man is famous for extreme conditions and the self-reliance of its attendees — two things BLM employees want no part of. The implication of the request was clear: The permit for the already sold-out festival, which will attract up to 80,000 people to the desert the week leading up to Labor Day, could be denied if the BLM’s VIPs aren’t provided with flushing toilets, showers, hot water, refrigerators, couches, washers, dryers, Choco Tacos, M&Ms, licorice, Chobani Greek Yogurt, steaks and 24-hour access to ice cream.

What, no bottle service or spa treatments?

In an interview with the Gazette-Journal, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., whose district includes the Black Rock Desert, questioned the origin of the request.

“I don’t think it was driven out of Nevada. I think it was driven out of Utah, or D.C., or both,” he said. “We have a big problem: 15 VIP accommodations and soft-serve ice cream 24 hours a day. With all due respect, those dots do not connect.”

That’s almost $67,000 per employee for a week in the sticks. Those are some awfully expensive manicures. (“Ethel, I said the clear nail polish!”)

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also had a big problem with the extravagance. In a pointed letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Sen. Reid reminded her of the cultural benefits and economic boost Burning Man has brought to the state for the past 23 years, and reiterated the philosophy and logistics of the festival.

“While I agree that the BLM should take its permitting duties seriously and work with Burning Man to both guarantee the safety of its participants and the protection of the environment, providing outlandishly unnecessary facilities for the BLM and its guests should be beyond the scope of the permitting requirements,” he wrote. “Flush toilets and laundry facilities can be found about ten miles away in Gerlach, Nevada, if BLM’s employees need such amenities.”

The BLM’s request bordered on extortion: “You want your permit? Then give us our ice cream!” The fallout from the demands has compelled the BLM to reconsider its needs at Burning Man. Good.

The demands, while ridiculous, make perfect sense. The BLM can’t manage the land. It can’t manage wild horse herds. It can’t prevent wildfires. Its sheltered staffers know nothing about the land, so they couldn’t possibly be expected to rough it while monitoring a counterculture celebration that’s all about leaving civilization behind. They think the public’s land is their land, and they resent leaving the comforts of their offices and homes to protect it from the unwashed masses.

Here’s an idea for the BLM: provide some basic camping courses to your staff — in the outdoors, not at a five-star hotel — and hire fewer wimps.