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Bureau of Land Management
Visual Resources

Bureau of Land Management Visual Resource Management System

The BLM's Visual Resource Management (VRM) system provides a framework for managing visual resources on BLM-administered lands. Included in this system is a mechanism for identifying visual resource values on BLM-administered lands, minimizing the impacts of surface-disturbing activities on visual resources, and maintaining the scenic value of tracts of land for the future. The VRM system includes the following processes:

  • Inventorying scenic values of BLM-administered lands through the Visual Resource Inventory (VRI) process;
  • Designating VRM classes that establish VRM objectives for BLM-administered lands;
  • Planning and designing proposed surface-disturbing projects to minimize adverse visual contrast and meet the VRM class objectives.
  • Evaluating proposed activities to determine their impact on VRI values and whether or not they conform to the established management objectives through the Visual Contrast Rating process;
  • Using visual impact mitigation methods to avoid, reduce, or compensate for the impacts;
  • Monitoring change in visual resource values; and
  • Updating the VRI to reflect the changed conditions.

These processes are summarized below, and shown in the figure.

VRM Policy

The overall BLM policy direction for VRM is contained in BLM Manual 8400 - Visual Resource Management (Issued 1984, 15 pp). Manual 8400 describes the purpose and objectives of the VRM system, BLM's authority to administer the VRM program, and individual responsibilities for VRM administration. It also states BLM policy with respect to VRM, and provides a brief overview of the VRM system.

BLM has also issued various Instructional Memoranda (IMs) that provide additional useful information about the VRM program and policies.

Visual Resource Inventory (VRI)

The BLM's VRI is a systematic process for:

  • Assessing and rating the intrinsic scenic quality of a particular tract of land, through the Scenic Quality Rating process;
  • Measuring the public concern for the scenic quality of the tract, through the Sensitivity Level Analysis; and
  • Classifying the distance from which the landscape is most commonly viewed, through delineation of distance zones.

Based on the outcome of the VRI, BLM-administered lands are assigned to one of four VRI classes. VRI Class I lands have the greatest relative visual values, and VRI Class IV lands have the lowest relative visual values.

Guidance regarding BLM's VRI process is contained in BLM Manual 8410 - Visual Resource Inventory (Issued 1986, 28 pp). See the BLM VRI page within the Visual Resource Inventory section of this website for more detailed information on BLM's visual resource inventory process.

Visual Resource Management

Decisions on the management of visual resources are made through the land use planning process. The land use plan decisions that direct the management of visual resources are established by designating VRM class objectives, which describe the desired future condition of the landscape when implementing the land use plan. VRM class objectives are designated for all BLM-administered public lands.

VRM class objectives are applied to spatially delineated visual management units designated for all BLM public lands during the land use planning process. Each VRM class objective is definitive, authoritative, and measurable. They establish the thresholds of allowable visual change to the landscape character and set forth the criteria to which land use authorizations shall conform. These area-specific objectives provide the standards for planning, designing, and evaluating future management actions when implementing the land use plan.

The VRI serves as the principal consideration when making VRM decisions that may protect or affect the landscape character and its scenic integrity during land use planning. The inventory values are considered in combination, as a unit (VRI classes), and independently (individual factors of scenic quality, sensitivity, and distance zones) when evaluating land use plan alternatives and making land use plan decisions.

Decisions on VRM class objectives also take into consideration other resource values that have management objectives that may or may not coincide with the protection of visual resources. Designating the appropriate VRM class objectives results from a coordinated and detailed examination of opportunities to protect visual values that also accounts for other program directives that require protective visual management of sensitive resource values while also aiming for compatibility with resource use and development allocations.

The VRM Class I management objective is to preserve the natural character of the landscape, and minimal visual change from human activities is allowed. VRM Class II and III lands allow progressively greater amounts of visual change to the existing landscape, while VRM Class IV lands provide for management activities which require major modification of the existing character of the landscape, and the level of change to the characteristic landscape can be high. Once the VRM class is determined for a tract of BLM-administered land in the RMP, BLM policy requires that proposed management activities on that tract, such as constructing and operating energy facilities, must meet the requirements of the VRM class.

Guidance regarding BLM's VRM class objectives is contained in BLM Manual 8410 - Visual Resource Inventory (Issued 1986, 28 pp). See the BLM VRM page within the Visual Resource Management section of this website for more detailed information on BLM's VRM classes and processes.

Visual Contrast Rating

Visual Resource Contrast Rating is a systematic means to evaluate the visual impacts of proposed projects and to determine whether the project conforms to the VRM class objectives. The contrast rating process serves as a visual design tool, a visual impacts assessment tool, a means to confirm project conformance with the VRM class objective, and an aid to analyze changes to VRI factors and shifts in VRI classes. If the VCR process determines 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 VCR 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 certain circumstances the BLM may consider amending the RMP to change the VRM class objective.

Guidance regarding BLM's VCR process is contained in BLM Manual 8431 - Visual Resource Contrast Rating (Issued 1986, 32 pp). See the BLM Visual Contrast Rating page within the Visual Impact Assessment section of this website for more detailed information on BLM's VCR process, including contrast rating forms.

Visual Impact Mitigation

Visual impact mitigation measures are measures taken to avoid, reduce, or offset adverse visual impacts resulting from development or land management activities. BLM routinely utilizes best management practices to reduce visual impacts from projects and activities on BLM-administered lands. See the Federal Agency Visual Impact Mitigation page within the Visual Impact Mitigation section of this website for more detailed information on BLM's visual impact mitigation practices.