Scenery Management System

In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service completed development of an updated version of the Visual Management System (VMS) used for analyzing impacts of management activities on the scenery of a given area. The VMS had been used since the mid-1970s as the preferred analysis tool for determining effects to scenery from proposed activities. The previous Forest Plan, completed in 1985, used the VMS to outline the visual quality objectives (VQOs) for all areas of the Tonto National Forest.

While all areas of the Tonto are considered to have some scenic value, the VMS process was designed to identify all travel routes, recreation use areas, and water bodies that were considered to be the most important scenic areas for constituents of the Forests. This process identified these special places and then developed objectives for them using the VQO categories of Preservation, Partial Retention, Modification, and Maximum Modification. These categories were based in general on the distinctive nature of the landscape and the relative importance of the area to the public.

In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service developed an updated version of the VMS, introducing the Scenery Management System (SMS). The VMS and SMS are both structured to primarily emphasize “natural appearing” scenery, but SMS recognizes the positive scenic values associated with some human modified (cultural) features and settings that are valued for their scenic influence. The SMS allows for a “seamless” analysis and conservation beyond national forest lands into adjacent communities and other jurisdictions.

The Scenery Management System provides a systematic approach for determining the relative value and importance of scenery in National Forest lands. Ecosystems provide the environmental context for the scenery management system. Ecosystems as recreational settings greatly affect the quality and effectiveness of the recreation experience. A key attribute of recreation settings is the quality of aesthetics. The SMS is to be used in the context of ecosystem management to inventory and analyze scenery on National Forest lands, to assist in establishment of overall resource goals and objectives, to monitor scenic resources and to ensure high quality scenery for future generations.

Forest personnel are required to transition from the old VMS process used in the 1985 Forest Plan to the newer system for forest plan revisions, based on Landscape Aesthetics: A Handbook for Scenery Management (1995), Agriculture Handbook 701.In preparation for forest plan revisions, there are various inventories required by SMS. These inventories provide essential information to determine the existing condition of scenic resources, the inherent scenic beauty of the landscape, the value of scenic resources to the human environment, and potential scenery management scenarios.

The process for scenery management system involves identifying scenic components as they relate to people, mapping these components and assigning a value for aesthetics. These inventories provide information to planning teams to assist them in making a decision relative to scenery as a part of ecosystems and at project levels, and in determining the tradeoffs related to forest plan management scenarios.

In preparation for forest plan revision, the Tonto is currently developing the various inventories required by SMS. After reviewing the old VQO maps, the Tonto determined it was not possible to convert these maps into the Scenery Management System since major changes in visitor use, recreation areas, travel routes, and wilderness boundaries made the old inventory out-of-date. The first inventory the Forest is developing is determining concern levels. Concern Levels are a measure of the degree of public importance placed on landscapes viewed from travelways (roads, trails, and waterways) and use areas. Upon review and approval of draft maps of concern levels by Forest managers, they will be presented to the public for comment. Final concern level maps will provide a foundation for other aspects of the scenery management system and influence the development of Scenic Integrity Objectives, which will guide the management of scenery resources. When the scenic integrity level inventory is completed, it will be used for all future project level analysis. 

The development of scenic character descriptions takes place in the inventory stage of the scenery management system (SMS) process and provides background information to aid in determining existing scenic integrity conditions and scenic attractiveness. They can also be used to develop the desired scenic character, scenic character goals and scenic integrity objectives in the Land Management Plan, and as a reference for future site-specific projects.

Scenic character descriptions were developed for the Tonto National Forest and include a narrative of the physical, biological and cultural images that give the forest its scenic identity and contribute to its sense of place. They describe the appearance of the landscape and its attributes. Scenic character descriptions provide a frame of reference from which to determine scenic attractiveness and to measure scenic integrity.

Additional information:

Scenery Management Overview Presentation (PDF)

Presentation to Tonto NF on Concern Levels (PDF)

Landscape Aesthetics: A Handbook for Scenery Management (PDF)