National Park Service Visual Resource Program Overview
Currently, within the National Park Service (NPS), the Air Resources Division of the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate is developing a Visual Resource Program (VRP) to help address visual resource issues throughout the NPS. The VRP is a comprehensive inventory, planning and park assistance program covering visual resource management.
The VRP helps parks identify and understand their visual resources to better enable them to develop conservation strategies through best management practices and collaboration efforts with stakeholders such as federal, state, and local agencies and private landowners. There are four major components to the VRP:
- Visual Resource Inventory (VRI) – The NPS VRI is a systematic method to describe views, assess scenic quality and other view values, and understand the risk of changes to the views.
- Planning – The VRP planning component involves providing support to parks for incorporating visual resources into the NPS planning process to better manage and protect visual resources.
- Technical Assistance – The VRP technical assistance efforts provide assistance to parks in understanding, responding to, and mitigating the potential visual impacts of proposed projects and land management actions.
- Policy and Guidance – The VRP policy and guidance will help assure consistency across the NPS in addressing visual resource management.
The NPS VRP components are summarized below. The VRP is described in more detail in The National Park Service Visual Resource Program: Supporting Parks in Scenery Conservation (2016, 10 pp).
Visual Resource Inventory
The NPS Visual Resource Inventory (VRI) system is the primary tool to help NPS areas understand their visual resources and communicate the visual resource values to partners and stakeholders in a consistent and credible way. The inventory process includes:
- A systematic description of the visual elements of important views inside and outside National Park System areas;
- An assessment of the view's scenic quality; and
- An assessment of the importance to NPS visitor experience and interpretive goals.
The planning component of the VRP includes assisting parks by helping them recognize and understand their unique visual resources so that they can incorporate visual resource concerns into their planning process and ultimately provide for their management and protection. The NPS planning framework provides a systematic way for parks to develop park planning through a series of efforts that begin with identification of a park’s fundamental resources, followed by assessment and understanding of resource conditions, and then development of specific implementation strategies to manage resources. Scenic inventory information is critical information parks need in the planning process to guide management of the visual landscape in conjunction with other park resources and values.
The NPS planning framework includes foundation documents, resource condition assessments, and resource stewardship strategies. Future VRP efforts include development of a standardized approach for preparing visual resource management plans that will assist parks in visual resource management and collaborative efforts to protect important scenic, historic and cultural views.
The VRP provides support to park areas to assess the potential visual impacts from a wide variety of threats both within a park unit and beyond a unit’s boundaries. This support can include:
- Reviewing and commenting on environmental documents, including visual impact assessments, simulations and other analyses of proposed projects.
- Assisting with agency coordination for potential renewable or conventional energy development, mining, transportation and other land use changes or projects.
Policy and Guidance
Through the VRP, the NPS Air Resources Division is participating in efforts to develop consistency across the NPS and among other agencies with respect to visual resource management. For example, NPS and BLM have organized a group that includes the visual resource leads of almost a dozen federal agencies to develop consistent ways for assessing impacts to the visual landscape and mitigating those impacts at a landscape scale.
As part of the effort to develop consistency across the NPS in addressing visual resource issues, the VRP also develops guidance documents, such as the Guide to Evaluating Visual Impact Assessments for Renewable Energy Projects (Issued 2014, 198 pp). The Guide presents detailed information to assist park and regional resource managers in evaluating the adequacy of visual impact assessments prepared for proposed utility-scale renewable energy projects.
Future topics and guidance documents will be developed based on feedback from parks and other NPS resource programs.