Opponents of the annual Burning Man counterculture festival on the Nevada desert have launched an Internet campaign against event organizers and federal land managers.
Opponents maintain the weeklong gathering on the Black Rock Desert leading up to Labor Day harms a unique desert landscape and results in ineffective cleanup efforts.
"The organizers of the event as well as the BLM are not living up to the public trust in making sure the land is restored to a reasonably clean state," group spokesman Ed Mitchell of San Mateo, Calif., told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
But Bureau of Land Management officials and representatives of San Francisco-based Black Rock City LLC say the cleanup of the art festival that drew 30,000 people last summer serves as a model of how to leave no trace on a sensitive area.
"I feel very comfortable with what we do out there," Black Rock City spokeswoman Marian Goodell said.
BLM spokesman David Cooper agreed: "Burning Man has done an outstanding job of cleanup. They have set the standard for cleanup on the Black Rock playa."
In their Web site, Mitchell and other opponents insist the public is being "spoon-fed propaganda" over an event that actually is taking a serious toll on the desert.
They want independent scientists to produce a detailed "environmental report card" on Burning Man and ensure the desert is not being destroyed for future generations.
Their Web site features a 2000 letter by prominent Nevada scientists Peter Brussard and Donald Sada calling for an environmental impact assessment of human activities on the desert.
Mitchell, 30, a computer systems administrator, said he has seen rebar, tent stakes and other debris left scattered on the playa after Burning Man.
He also cites damage to a privately owned hot springs leased to Black Rock City for water used in dust control during the event.
"These guys are saying one thing and doing another," agreed event critic Rodney Sparks, 26, a Sacramento engineer.
Citing documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, Mitchell said BLM officials admit the system used to measure the success of the cleanup effort is arbitrary in nature and not based on sound science.
The agency makes only a random inspection of parts of affected public land.
Cooper acknowledged the cleanup inspection is an evolving process that might be changed in the future.
He also noted Burning Man already was studied in an environmental asessment released in May 2003, but said additional studies might be warranted.
The BLM has proposed a study of "playa dynamics" that would include an examination of small, mysterious sand dunes observed near the festival site in recent years.
Opponents contend the dunes make driving unsafe for other desert users and probably are caused by large volumes of dust kicked up by Burning Man participants.
"Not enough is known about it," Cooper said.
On the Net:
Opponents' site: www.stopburningman.org
Organizers' site: www.burningman.com