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Bureau of Land Management
Visual Resources

United States Forest Service Visual Resource Management

The United States Forest Service's (USFS's) Scenery Management System (SMS) provides a framework for the inventory, analysis, and management of scenery on National Forest Lands. The SMS can be used for all scales of forest management, from broad scale forest planning (where objectives are established) to detailed project-level work. 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 (1996, 264 pp).

Use of the SMS in Forest Planning

In conformance with the National Forest Management Act of 1976, each national forest develops a comprehensive plan, utilizing substantial public involvement and sound science, to guide future management. USFS-administered public lands are managed in accordance with these forest plans. The forest plan establishes how the forest lands will be used and allocated for different purposes. Forest plan 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 SMS contributes to forest planning because it provides information about the quality and spatial distribution of scenic resources on UFSF-managed lands, and provides scenic resource management objectives for these lands.

During the alternative development portion of the planning process, the potential and historical aspects of the Landscape Character Description are used to develop achievable Landscape Character Options in concert with other resource and social demands. Landscape Character Descriptions and associated Scenic Integrity levels, long- and short term, are identified for each option and alternative. Upon adoption of a plan, the Landscape Character Description becomes a goal and the Scenic Integrity levels become Scenic Integrity Objectives. Subsequent plan implementation includes monitoring of both long- and short-term goals and objectives for scenery management.

Use of the SMS in Project Planning and Visual Impact Assessment

The USFS does not have a formal procedure for visual impact assessment. Consequently, a variety of methods may be used by USFS staff for visual impact assessment. However, the SMS includes landscape character descriptions and scenic integrity objectives that can be used to help assess the compatibility of a proposed project with the surrounding landscape. The use of character descriptions and scenic integrity objectives for visual impact assessment is discussed on the USFS Visual Impact Assessment page of this website.