Bureau of Land Management Visual Resource Management Classes
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers more than 247 million acres of public lands, primarily in the western United States. BLM-administered public lands are managed in accordance with approved resource management plans (RMPs). The RMPs establish how the public lands will be used and allocated for different purposes; they are developed with public participation and collaboration. RMP decisions establish goals and objectives for resource management (desired outcomes) and the measures needed to achieve these goals and objectives (management actions and allowable uses).
Visual Inventory Values and Visual Resource Management Class Designation
For visual resources on BLM-administered lands, the visual values reflected in Visual Resource Inventory (VRI) classes are considered in establishing goals and objectives for resource management. When Visual Resource Management (VRM) class objectives are designated for the lands in the RMP, management actions and allowable uses are determined that reflect the VRM class objectives.
The VRI class values reflect the quality of the visual resource, but they are not the sole determinant of how the visual resources on the lands are to be managed; the BLM manages lands for a variety of purposes, and preservation of scenic values is only one of many factors to consider in determining land management objectives. The VRI class values must be considered when determining VRM objectives in the RMP process, but they are not intended to automatically become VRM class designations.
VRM classes are determined through careful analyses of other resource values, and other potential land uses and demands. The VRM class determination is based on a full assessment that evaluates the VRI in concert with needed resource uses and desirable future outcomes. The VRM class designations may be different than the VRI classes assigned in the inventory and should reflect a balance between protection of visual values and meeting America’s energy and other land use or commodity needs.
VRM Classes and Objectives
The VRM classes set VRM objectives for lands in each class, as well as the level of visual change in the landscape character that is allowed as a result of proposed management activities. The objectives and allowed levels of change for each of the four VRM classes are as follows:
- VRM Class I Objective: To preserve the existing character of the landscape. Allowed Level of Change: This class provides for natural ecological changes; however, it does not preclude very limited management activity. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be very low and must not attract attention.
- VRM Class II Objective: To retain the existing character of the landscape. Allowed Level of Change: The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be low. Management activities may be seen, but should not attract the attention of the casual observer. Any changes must repeat the basic elements of form, line, color, and texture found in the predominant natural features of the characteristic landscape.
- VRM Class III Objective: To partially retain the existing character of the landscape. Allowed Level of Change: The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be moderate. Management activities may attract attention, but should not dominate the view of the casual observer. Changes should repeat the basic elements found in the predominant natural features of the characteristic landscape.
- VRM Class IV Objective: To provide for management activities which require major modification of the existing character of the landscape. Allowed Level of Change: The level of change to the characteristic landscape can be high. Management activities may dominate the view and may be the major focus of viewer attention. However, the impact of these activities should be minimized through careful siting, minimal disturbance, and repeating the basic elements of form, line, color, and texture within the existing setting.
Project Conformance with VRM Class Objectives
Once the VRM class is determined for a tract of BLM-administered land in the RMP, BLM policy requires that proposed management activities, such as cattle grazing, or constructing and operating a utility-scale renewable energy facility on that tract, must meet the requirements of the VRM class. Disclosure of impacts to the visual values of the project area and conformance with the VRM class requirements is determined through the Visual Contrast Rating process during the environmental impact analysis for the project.
If the Visual Contrast Rating process confirms that the project conforms to the VRM class objectives and the project is allowed, a concerted effort must still be made to reduce the visual contrasts, even if the proposed project meets the VRM class objectives. If the contrast rating determines that, as proposed, the project will not conform to the VRM class objectives, additional visual impact mitigation must be implemented until the project does comply with the VRM class requirements. If additional mitigation will not result in the project meeting VRM class requirements, the project is not permitted. However, in some circumstances the BLM may consider amending the RMP to change the VRM class objective.