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SFI Implementation Committee of Montana

Guide to Forest Aesthetics

Actively managing forest to insure their health and value often involves road building and commercial logging, both of which can dramatically impact a forest’s visual appearance. Forest aesthetics are visual resource management practices that have been developed to address negative reactions to forest appearance.

What are visually sensitive landscapes?

Visual resource management practices should be applied on visually sensitive forest landscapes. When determining whether a parcel is in a visually sensitive landscape consider the following factors:

  • Distance between the viewer and the harvest area—in the foreground, details such as stumps and slash dominate the view, in the middle ground as distance increases color differences are most noticeable, and finally in the background at long distances harvest size and shape are most notable.
  • Viewer position—a harvest can be screened from view if a viewer is below or even with the harvest. On the other hand, a viewer above a harvest is offered a clear look at the harvest.
  • Topography—in general, the steeper the slope the more visually sensitive the landscape.
  • Duration—the length of time a viewer is exposed to a site.
  • Ephemeral characteristics—temporary charteristics caused by weather or climatic conditions. For example, harvests on southwestern hillsides are well-lit by the sun, where as harvest on northern slopes tend to be shaded and less visible.
  • Stand Structure—any tree removal in even-aged canopy stands will be apparent.

What harvest practices do people approve of, and which ones do they dislike?

Research has shown that the major concerns of the viewing public are:

  • Tree retention—the more standing trees after a harvest, the less the visual impact.
  • Residual material—tree remnants such as tree stumps, snags, limbs, and brush are a major visual concern. Removing residual material, however, may conflict with wildlife objectives, or hamper nutrient cycling.
  • Color contrasts—forests are generally green, whereas harvested areas are likely to be brown or black. The contrasting colors resulting from the harvest are dislike.
  • Shape and location of harvest unit—Square or rectangular harvest units create a greater visual impact than those with more rounded edges. Clearing ridge tops and harvesting “v-shaped” canyons or draws also creates a visual impact that focuses on the harvest area.

Practices that the public likes include:

  • Buffers—a buffer is a strip of trees or other vegetation that screens a harvest area from view. If buffers are used they should be wide enough to effectively screen the harvest area. Thin, wispy buffers give people the notion that something is being hidden from them.
  • Information signs—most people view signs that convey when trees were harvested, planted, thinned, etc. Well placed signs are useful in letting people know that a forest is being tended under a sound stewardship program.

Why don’t people like certain harvest practices?

Research has shown that when people do not like what they see on a landscape, it is because some element of the landscape doesn’t “fit”. Not fitting can be explained in terms of line, form, color, and texture; four elements that can be used to describe a landscape.

  • Lines—an element of the landscape that may include the horizon and tree trunks.
  • Forms—three-dimensional configuration of lines on the landscape, e.g. hills and mountains
  • Colors—a feature that applies to all elements of the landscape. Up close colors are easily distinguishable. At a distance, colors become shades of light and dark.
  • Texture—the relative smoothness of a landscape, e.g. craggy rocks versus relatively smooth forest canopy.

What can be done to mitigate the visual impacts of harvest practices?

Harvesting practices in foreground situation (less than ½ mile between viewer and harvest area) should concentrate on:

  • Replanting with a variety of species
  • Retaining trees in groups
  • Do not pile brush
  • Keep trees with substantial crowns
  • Increasing planting density
  • Avoid high stumps

The SFI Implementation Committee of Montana is made up of SFI program participates and supporters.

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