Visual Impact Assessment Guidebook
Table of Contents
Visual resource management concepts and principles
The purpose of this appendix is to explain, in general terms, how visual resources are
managed by the Ministry of Forests in British Columbia.
The Recreation Manual and Forest Landscape Handbook provided guidance on
visual resource management in the context of integrated resource management (IRM).
However, the introduction of the Forest Practices Code in 1995 has seen changes made to
many of those procedures and standards. This appendix summarizes the state of the art in
the visual resource management approaches, procedures, techniques, and practices that are
currently being developed or carried out in British Columbia to manage visual resources
and maintain timber supply. For ease of use and understanding, these concepts and
practices are presented using standard planning steps and terminology. When available,
additional information or explanation is referenced for your convenience.
Step I: Inventory
- Visual landscape inventory is used to delineate, classify, and record areas in the
province that are considered to be visually sensitive. This information is intended to
assist land-use planners and resource managers in deciding appropriate land uses, resource
development objectives, and management prescriptions.
- New visual landscape inventory standards and procedures were approved by the Director of
the Forest Practices Branch in June 1997 and endorsed by the Resource Inventory Committee.
These new standards incorporate a more systematic and comprehensive methodology, and all
new inventories should be carried out to these standards to ensure consistency of
application across the province (see the Visual Landscape Inventory Procedures and
- All existing inventories will eventually be converted to the new inventory standards to
remove the old recommended and approved visual quality objectives (VQOs) from the map
label. This will eliminate the confusion with VQOs established under the Forest
Practices Code Act.
- Twenty percent of a districts visual landscape inventory should be updated each
year. This will ensure that the inventory is brought up to date in 5 years time. It
also rationalizes existing inventories, fills gaps, and improves the reliability and
consistency of the inventory.
Step II: Planning
- Where strategic land-use planning is initiated or under way, Ministry of Forests visual
landscape inventory mapping or Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture tourism
capability mapping can provide the necessary information to identify the location of
sensitive landscapes and known scenic areas, as well as provide management direction.
- Where landscape unit planning is initiated or under way, scenic areas may be identified
and made known and VQOs may be established through this planning process.
- In the absence of higher-level plans, or for higher-level plans not specifically
addressing the management of scenic areas and visual quality, district managers can use
their own statutory authority to identify and make scenic areas known, and establish VQOs.
(See Forest Practices Code Bulletin 16a for information on this subject.)
Step III: Analysis
- During the development of the new visual landscape inventory standards described above,
recommended visual quality objectives (RVQOs) were removed from the inventory in order to
keep the visual landscape inventory and analysis functions separate. Interim directions
for carrying out visual landscape analyses are presented in a Forest Practices Branch memo
dated August 25, 1997. Recommended visual quality classes (RVQCs) now replace the RVQOs of
old. These classes are a specialists recommendation describing the level of
alteration that would be appropriate for a visual sensitivity unit.
Uses of RVQs include:
- input to planning processes;
- input to Timber Supply Reviews (TSRs) (where the RVQC reflects current management
- operational guidance for managing visual resources in lieu of established VQOs.
Recommended visual quality classes are recorded as administrative attributes on the
inventory file, but do not appear on visual landscape inventory maps.
- In those circumstances where a district manager or those involved in a planning process
choose to establish VQOs within scenic areas, the effects on timber supply should be
assessed or the results of already completed TSRs or timber supply analyses should be
- In circumstances where strategic land-use plans develop visual quality objectives, the
results should be modelled in TSRs.
- Where timber supply analyses are undertaken, it is imperative that what is modelled as
current management in TSRs reflects visual resource management as it is practiced on the
ground within the Timber Supply Area (TSA) (i.e., do not model inventory data for an
entire district if VQOs have just been established and are being managed on 30% of the
inventoried area). (See Procedures for Factoring Recreation and Visual Resources into
Timber Supply Analyses.)
- With the adoption of the Forest Practices Code and subsequent timber supply analyses, it
was found that some TSAs exhibit a short-term timber supply problem related to integrated
resource management. It may be possible to make up some of this shortfall by managing
visual resources differently. (See Framework for Managing Visual Resources to Mitigate
Impacts on Timber Supply.)
Step IV: Implementation of Forest Practices
- In areas where an approved government strategic land-use plan (e.g., regional plan or
LRMP) or a higher-level plan is in place, these should be examined for direction on
managing visual resources (e.g., such a plan may identify known scenic areas, in
which case the district manager must ensure that the resource is adequately managed and
- In areas where VQOs have been established through higher-level plans or by the district
manager, the Visual Landscape Design Training Manual provides design strategies for
minimizing the effects of various forest practices on visual quality and the Visual
Impact Assessment Guidebook provides the standards that must be achieved and
recommended procedures for assessing whether the visual impact of proposed practices will
meet the established VQOs.
- When harvesting is proposed in a scenic area, or in a scenic area with established VQOs,
it is important that TSR modelling reflects on-the-ground management practices. This will
ensure an adequate and timely timber supply contribution from these visually sensitive
- Visual landscape design, as described in the Visual Landscape Design Training Manual,
is an effective tool to evaluate whether or not measures specified to protect the scenic
resource (as required by Section 10(1)(c)(ii) of the Forest Practices Code Act) are
adequate to manage and conserve the resource.
- Integrated visual design is an effective tool for addressing multiple resource
objectives (e.g., biodiversity, riparian management, and visual quality for a given area).
(See Chapter 6 of the Visual Landscape Design Training Manual.)
- Where it is necessary to increase wood supply from scenic areas, two strategies are
available. One or both may be implemented.
- Increase wood supply without relaxing visual quality classes by:
- improving visual landscape design;
- encouraging alternative silvicultural systems;
- using lower visually effective green-up tree heights; and
- identifying visual rehabilitation opportunities not requiring changes to VQCs.
- Modify management practices to increase wood supply by:
- reassessing visual quality classes;
- using minimum visually effective green-up tree heights; and
- identifying visual rehabilitation opportunities that may require changes to VQCs.
Visual quality objectives that have been established by higher-level plans cannot be
relaxed using district manager authority. (See Framework for Managing Visual Resources
to Mitigate Impacts on Timber Supply.)
- Effectiveness audits are used to determine if Code provisions, including regulations,
policy, and guidebooks, are effective; they provide the necessary information to manage
the visual resource. Forest Practices Branch will work with regions and districts to
schedule effectiveness audits on visual resource management.
- Compliance and enforcement inspections are used to determine whether on-the-ground
operations achieved the objectives approved in the FDP. Visual resource management should
be incorporated in the ongoing monitoring and inspection of forest practices.
- Training of Ministry and industry personnel is an ongoing necessity to ensure consistent
application of Code provisions, and for undertaking inventory, analysis, planning, and
design procedures relating to the visual resource. Key areas requiring training include:
new visual resource management policies, visual landscape design, visual impact
assessments, and visual landscape inventory.