Rural System's

The Viewscapes Group

A viewscape is all of the land and water seen from a point or along a series of points (e.g., a road or trail). Violating the very name, it is also a point being viewed (e.g., a lookout, building, or sign). Viewscape management includes describing, planning, and designing the visual aspects of all components of the area, then working to achieve specific related objectives. Managing the "seen aspects" may greatly effect the perceived spirit of a place. All resource activities or management practices are included. Activities typically will include on-the-ground and computer-aided analyses of visual influences, at least before construction or action.

Actions, wherever possible, can emphasize as well as harmonize the viewscape. A bad experience with an even or scene experienced by the public can result in costly delays, law suits, and repressed public relations that may last for years. Viewscapes, like streams and soil, must be managed.See Solid Homes for additional discussion of esthetic and viewscape issues.

Stillman (1966:5) said:

... A view offers a chance to look away at nothing much; to see variety in distance, shape, color, and texture. One thinks about anything but what one sees at such a time. We all need the chance to look with unseeing eyes ...

Many people within the natural resource fields discuss at length esthetics (even its alternative spelling "aesthetics"), beauty, attractiveness, and the role of scenery in recreation and ecosystem management. Among staff of Rural Syatem we shall be discussing an evolving concept of the perceptual and conceptual resource. The concept builds upon and unifies some older concepts and, we believe, creates a new concept that may cast a long shadow.

Managing the Perceptual Resource

Resources are goods and services. Natural resources have the four interactive components of energy and or matter, time, space, and variety. If forest esthetics (see Feb 1995 Journal of Forestry 93(2)) is anything, it is what a forest does to or for people, thus a service. Perhaps it is a peculiar "good" that supplies a service, but that seems an unnecessary distinction to be made. Arguing that it, whatever "it" is (for the moment), is a service and experienced or utilized by people, then we can attempt to name its major components. These are (expanded for the future, beyond visual):

Part of this resource is obviously space and variety, but not-so-obvious (the evidence is in its omission) is time. A scene may change seasonally and over the years. A scene may be what can be remembered from the past (e.g., a field where soldiers once fought).

Gobster (1994) said the Leopold never explicitly outlined his "ecological esthetic" but had a view that an esthetic experience is as cerebral as it is perceptual. A major part of this cerebral resource is the feeling that goes with perception, especially that when a scene or situation is "beautiful", the things there are also protected (Schuh 1995). An area seen from a distance and not particularly unattractive may be perceived as ugly because of past experience close at hand with such areas having erosion, stream sediments, and trash. "A clearcut or a trail by company X" is the perception and that includes either experiences, TV viewing, and other learning experiences.

We manage the perceptual resource. It may include "study of" esthetics but that is much too narrow a view.

We define beauty as seasonal and that for a named group of people. Although variable, we define beauty as expressed in relative terms for a situation -- maximum, median, mean, and minimum (where negative values are those of relative ugliness).

Certain features or phenomena detract from the presence or quality of a situation and the probability that the scene will be judged beautiful by the named group of people at a specified time. The detractors include, for example, high noise levels.

Scenes or situations may be of equal value.

Scenes are weighted relative to each other.

Once the resource is defined, it may be possible to improve, stabilize, or easily reduce its value. A site may be more or less easily "ruined", made less beautiful or, past a point, more ugly. Most conditions are manageable -- can be improved in reasonable time to a desired level at reasonable cost, then to maximize users of the higher valued resource; minimize those of the lower valued resource...and to set up conditions to maximize the sum over a planning period (say 50 years). Expected scenes can be clarified so that expectations of people will match well with what they observe.

We have a concept of the rural culture that we shall be willing to implement, describing scenes, themes, current scene scores, dynamics of the scores, county beauty index, and a procedure to negotiate balancing losses and gains in natural beauty that may result from proposed development.

Potential Actions in Managing the Perceptual Resource:

The following are typically included in prescriptions, and a scoring mechanism developed with them to provide incentives and contractual limits for work within the county:

  1. Do not disturb the area
  2. Manage buffer strips (filter, stabilization, leave strips)
  3. Place a visual barrier or screen
  4. Sequence harvests
  5. Reduce size of areas harvested
  6. "Feather the edges" or modify straight lines of harvest area boundaries
  7. Alter harvest methods
  8. Make careful road layout
  9. Maintain roads
  10. Keep mud off highways
  11. Tighten road standards
  12. Use partial removals as a harvest strategy
  13. Make low stumps
  14. Report rates of decomposition from local studies and demo plots
  15. Use slash (perceived by some as "waste")
  16. Reduce slash to a maximum of 2 feet off the ground
  17. Lop tree tops
  18. Build quality landings
  19. Install effective waterbars
  20. Remove or hide in-place garbage, equipment parts, oil cans, and refuse
  21. Plant seedlings
  22. Plant older seedlings, especially in the road zone
  23. Hydroseed exposed areas
  24. Re-seed roads as soon as feasible
  25. Use partially cut buffer strips along roads
  26. With blower, blow debris from road edges onto exposed roadside-cutbanks
  27. Cut, sort, and pile logs as they arrive at the landing
  28. Use bumper trees along skid trails; reduce damage to larger high-quality trees
  29. Start work at the back of the sale; work forward
  30. Finish each section before starting another
  31. Dispose or bury all slash at the landings when the job is done
  32. Mark or build trails first, then keep tops off of these land and resource-use lanes
  33. Leave scattered clumps of trees in clearcuts
  34. Implement education (tours, etc.)
  35. Implement public education program
  36. Use professional interpretive signs
  37. Restrict viewers (season, time, locations, during harvests)
  38. Increase viewer distance from the troublesome sites
  39. Increase speed of buffer-area recovery (irrigation, fertilizer, etc.)
  40. Emphasize benefits of harvests to some species of animals or plants
  41. Harvest in remote areas
  42. Fully screen clearcuts
  43. Prevent ridgelines from appearing barren (use solid tree line)
  44. Avoid rectangular harvest units (blend)
  45. Spread cuts across the landscape
  46. Include phone number on signs so that more information may be gotten about the nature of offenses
  47. Provide brochures with signs
  48. Use signs before, during, and after the harvest operations
  49. Work with Rural System vandalism concepts
  50. Move people; provide new access to beautiful areas nearby when one area is harvested
  51. Anticipate spending 5% of gross stumpage on the perceptual resource ($500-1500/acre)
  52. Use GIS to map viewscapes, both see-to and seen-from points
  53. Map (with GIS) the roads (and other public areas) from which the proposed harvest areas may be seen
  54. Analyze and report the regional scenic beauty index of Rural System Tracts
  55. Link perceptual resource management to management of watersheds, wildlife, soil, air (air quality effect on viewing distance), water, and recreation

   Erosion, not of soil but of a view
Preliminary Viewscape management distance zones (foreground, middleground, and background) will be studied for how they may become practical. However we prefer GIS scenes from roadways, overlooks, and viewing points.The viewing points are typically: shore from lake positions; roads, trails, peaks, streams, recreational areas, viewing towers or platforms, and major entrance and exit places (e.g., town entrances and historic sites).

The area provides points, linear views, and vast areas or vistas judged differently as interesting, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. The natural components of the area are attractions for many. Changes in where people live and increased urbanization will likely increase interest in the scenic values of the area.

The land of the region is beautiful but that beauty can be enhanced. Even more important, it must be managed so that it is not diminished and so that the full messages of the Rural System and of a system of total land management can be carried forward onto other lands. Staff will develop a plan, policies, and procedures for esthetic enhancement and management of the area that will include an integrated system for other lands. This will give the lands of the enterprise a personality and assure benefactors that their lands will be similarly treated. Not another 'park service' or 'forest service' appearance, the new 'look' of the Rural System Tracts shows care, attention to studied concepts of natural beauty, cost effective work, diversity, sustainability, durability, and functional amendments to views and scenes. Talking about natural beauty is difficult and almost meaningless. We shall develop a concept and implement select elements for the county with a full scale presentation shortly after that.

Minor changes in a viewscape can cause significant outcry and concern for the scenic resource or overall viewscape of the area. Having quantified studies allows at least some degree of status, of standing, and of legal defense.

Sensitivity zones will be mapped within the GIS by System Central. Level-I zones have great importance or sensitivity to visual change. The levels are closely related to the risk of being viewed as "ugly" or, conversely the probability of falling from a class of "beautiful."

Size and location of forest operations (if any) are an example of a viewscape problem of concern. Future developments will use the viewscape analyses of The Trevey.

Other significant aspects of the planned action:

  1. Direct inputs into documents for The Realtor Group
  2. Color coordination and consistent use for signs, structure paint, flags, staff clothing, vehicles and equipment, and fences.
  3. Consistent use of texture.
  4. Consistent use of golden-section proportions.
  5. Minimum and consistent signs.
  6. Scaled signs.
  7. Boundary marks and signs.
  8. Trail quality, signs, and markers.
  9. Entrance signs and "developments"
  10. Trail location to include viewpoints.
  11. Viewpoint selections, enhancements for photographs, and management.
  12. Roadside verge management and view (corridor view) protection.
  13. Fences and their construction and color
  14. Structures, new and remodeled, and gardens
  15. Solar energy strategies
  16. Grounds maintenance
  17. Historic site development
  18. Logo and correspondence
  19. Office appearance
  20. Software appearance
  21. Publication appearance
  22. Photo quality and presentation standards
  23. Memorial grove and ancient forest development
  24. Air quality management or emphases.
  25. Interpretive aids to scenes (names of ridges; time to hike to point x).
  26. Consulting services provided by the staff to others.

Preliminary planned list of standard views

See The Trevey's Viewscape Management and Views as one of the major benefits offered by Rural System.

See Scenic Quality Management

We plan to evaluate the potential visual impact of all management activities (recreation, timber, water, wildlife, and mineral activities, road, trail, and facility construction and species uses.) Trained personnel will make evaluations. If the evaluation shows an unacceptable contrast rating, or if a feature or focal landscape is involved, efforts will be made to reduce effects or alter the project.

See litter and viewscape ideas for Wise County, Virginia.

Reference Bergen, S.D., J.L. Fridley, M.A. Ganter, and P. Schiess. 1995. Predicting the visual effect of forest operations. J. Forestry 93: (2) 33-37



Part of the concept of place, I believe will someday be recognized as being an electromagnetic perception of a force (molecular orientations) apparently present in migratory birds and other creatures. This is a natural "matching" of body forces to local-place forces, thus avoiding a very low-level dissonance. See also E.O. Wilson's discussions of esthetics in Consilience.
R.H. Giles

Perhaps you will share ideas with me about some of the topic(s) above .

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Robert H. Giles, Jr.
July 2, 2005