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Bureau of Land Management
Visual Resources

Visual Impact Assessment Methodologies

What Are Visual Impacts?

Visual impacts are changes to the scenic attributes of the landscape brought about by the introduction of visual contrasts (e.g., development) and the associated changes in the human visual experience of the landscape. Visual Impact Assessment (or VIA) is the analysis of the potential visual impacts to the landscape and landscape views resulting from a proposed development or land management action. The document that contains a visual impact analysis is also often referred to as a visual impact assessment or VIA.

Why Do Federal Agencies Conduct VIAs?

Several U.S. federal agency visual resource programs have a VIA process or component, because reducing visual impacts of projects is a key goal of the visual resource programs. This is especially true of agencies that permit development on the lands or waters they administer or agencies that regulate certain types of development, such as highways or dams, that have potentially large visual impacts.

Federal VIA Methodologies Overview

The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a formal process for assessing the impacts of projects, the Visual Contrast Rating. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS) does not have a formal process for visual impact assessment, but the USFS Scenery Management System has Landscape Character Goals and Scenic Integrity Objectives which serve as a baseline for assessing the basic compatibility of a project with the surrounding landscape. The National Park Service does not generally permit new utility-scale energy development on NPS-administered lands, and thus has no formal visual impact assessment process, but does provide guidance on evaluating VIAs. The Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide guidance on visual impact assessment while the Natural Resources Conservation Service does not. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currentluy developing a VIA methodology (see Visual Impact Assessment: Other Federal Agencies for more information).

Non-Federal Agencies VIA Methodologies Overview

Some states and other agencies have prescribed or recommended VIA methodologies.

Energy Project VIA-Related Research and Technical Reports

A variety of federally-sponsored research and technical reports addressing visual impacts of energy facilities and visual impact analysis are also available.