In order to meet its responsibility to maintain the scenic values of the public lands, BLM has developed a VRM system that addresses the following:
- Different levels of scenic values require different levels of management. For example, management of an area with high scenic value might be focused on preserving the existing character of the landscape, and management of an area with little scenic value might allow for major modifications to the landscape. Determining how an area should be managed first requires an assessment of the area’s scenic values.
- Assessing scenic values and determining visual impacts can be a subjective process. Objectivity and consistency can be greatly increased by using the basic design elements of form, line, color, and texture, which have often been used to describe and evaluate landscapes, to also describe proposed projects. Projects that repeat these design elements are usually in harmony with their surroundings; those that don’t create contrast. By adjusting project designs so the elements are repeated, visual impacts can be minimized.
BLM’s VRM system provides a way to identify and evaluate scenic values to determine the appropriate levels of management. It also provides a way to analyze potential visual impacts and apply visual design techniques to ensure that surface-disturbing activities are in harmony with their surroundings. BLM’s VRM system consists of two stages:
- Inventory (Visual Resource Inventory)
- Analysis (Visual Resource Contrast Rating)
The inventory stage involves identifying the visual resources of an area and assigning them to inventory classes using BLM’s visual resource inventory process. The process involves rating the visual appeal of a tract of land, measuring public concern for scenic quality, and determining whether the tract of land is visible from travel routes or observation points. The process is described in detail in BLM Handbook H-8410-1, Visual Resource Inventory. The results of the visual resource inventory become an important component of BLM’s Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the area. The RMP establishes how the public lands will be used and allocated for different purposes, and it is developed through public participation and collaboration. Visual values are considered throughout the RMP process, and the area’s visual resources are then assigned to management classes with established objectives:
- Class I Objective: To preserve the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be very low and must not attract attention
- Class II Objective: To retain the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be low
- Class III Objective: To partially retain the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be moderate.
- Class IV Objective: To provide for management activities which require major modification of the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape can be high.