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Bureau of Land Management
Visual Resources

Visual Resource Management

What Is Visual Resource Management?

The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) defines visual resource management (VRM) as the inventory and planning actions taken to identify visual resource values and to establish objectives for managing those values, and the management actions taken to achieve the visual resource management objectives. The visual resource programs of most U.S. federal agencies do not meet all of the criteria included in this definition. While some may have established procedures for visual impact assessment, or may have visual resource inventory processes, most do not actively manage lands, and so they do not have inventoried lands with identified resource values and established management objectives, along with procedures or practices for achieving the management objectives. Two agencies with visual resource programs that do meet these criteria are the BLM and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS).

U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management

The BLM manages large areas of public land primarily in the Western United States. BLM-administered lands are managed in accordance with approved resource management plans (RMPs). The RMP establishes how the public lands will be used and allocated for different purposes; it is 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).

The BLM has developed the Visual Resource Management (VRM) system for visual resource inventory, management, and impact assessment. VRM class objectives are designated to establish the desired future condition of the visual resource. Allowable uses and management actions must be planned in accordance with these desired future conditions. The VRM classes set VRM objectives for lands in each class and describe the limits of allowable visual change in the landscape character with which proposed management activities must comply. See the BLM's Visual Resource Management (VRM) Classes page of this website for more information on how BLM VRM classes are used to manage scenic resources.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service

The USFS's Scenery Management System (SMS) provides a framework for the inventory, analysis, and management of scenery on National Forest Lands. Using the SMS, the USFS inventories all USFS-managed lands, and sets landscape character goals scenic integrity objectives for these lands when adopting a forest plan. The SMS is summarized on the USFS Visual Resource Inventory page of this website and is described in detail in USFS Agriculture Handbook 701 Landscape Aesthetics: A Handbook for Scenery Management (Issued 1996, 264 pp).

U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service

The National Park Service (NPS) administers lands and waters within NPS units, but does not currently identify resource values and establish VRM objectives for NPS-managed lands and waters. The NPS has developed the Visual Resource Inventory process for identifying and inventorying important scenic views for conservation purposes, but these lands may be inside or outside NPS units, and there currently is no requirement that all NPS-managed lands and waters be inventoried for scenic values. In some cases, selected individual NPS units have historically developed their own visual resource inventory and/or visual resource management tools and data independently, for use within their unit.

Other Federal Agency Policies and Programs

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are not land management agencies, and thus do not manage visual resources according to the BLM definition above. However, all of these agencies have visual resource-related programs or procedures that they use to protect visual resources in the conduct of their activities. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) regulates utility-scale energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf, but currently does not conduct scenic inventories or set visual quality objectives for these waters.

Follow the link below to learn more about other federal agency visual resource programs and policies, including the FHWA, USACE, BOEM, NRCS, and FERC:

Non-Federal Agency Policies and Programs

A number of states have policies or regulations regarding project siting that include visual resources, and some non-federal agencies have required or recommended processes for conducting visual resource-related projects, such as scenic resources inventories and especially visual impact assessments, but currently non-federal agencies generally do not manage visual resources through inventory of managed lands, the setting of visual resource management objectives for those lands, and the use of procedures to achieve those objectives; however, there are exceptions, such as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Follow the link below to learn more about other non-federal agency visual resource management: