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Burning Man Size Challenged In New Appeal (PHOTOS)

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By Martin Griffith, Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A California man is appealing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's decision to increase the Burning Man festival's attendance cap in the Nevada desert.

Christopher Brooks' appeal of the agency's increase in the maximum crowd size from 50,000 to 60,900 will be considered by the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

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The weeklong celebration of radical self-expression and eclectic artwork leading up to Labor Day draws tens of thousands of people from around the world to the Black Rock Desert, some 100 miles north of Reno.

Brooks, a land sailor from Cotati, Calif., suggests the event is to blame for dunes that have kept him and others such as land-speed racers from using the sprawling desert for their activities.

He further maintains Burning Man should not have been "rewarded" with the population increase because it was placed on probation by the BLM for exceeding last year's cap, and it has not undergone a BLM-mandated performance evaluation.

"As a member of the public, my concern is that this will set a precedent for other (special recreation permit) holders to violate stipulations and be rewarded," he wrote to the BLM. "I am asking that Burning Man stay at 50,000 people in 2012."

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.

Burning Man organizers are appealing the BLM's decision to place them on probation for exceeding last year's attendance cap to the same federal board that will consider Brooks' appeal.

BLM officials say they took the action after the festival drew daily crowds of more than 53,000 on Sept. 2 and Sept. 3, above the daily crowd cap of 50,000 allowed under its special recreation permit.

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