Long-term vegetation dynamics across public rangelands in the western United States are not well understood because of the lack of large-scale, readily available historic datasets. The Bureau of Land Management’s Soil-Vegetation Inventory Method (SVIM) program was implemented between 1977 and 1983 across 14 western states, but the data have not been easily accessible. This guide introduces the SVIM vegetation cover dataset in a georeferenced, digital format; summarizes how the data were collected; and discuss potential limitations and biases. It demonstrates how SVIM data can be compared with contemporary monitoring datasets to quantify changes in vegetation associated with wildfire and the abundance of exotic invasive species. Specifically, it compares SVIM vegetation cover data with cover data collected by BLM’s Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) program (2011–2016) in a focal area in the northern Great Basin. Comparisons between historic SVIM data and recent AIM data documented significant declines in the occupancy and cover of native shrubs and native perennial forbs, and a significant increase in exotic annual forbs. Our study demonstrates that SVIM data will be an important resource for researchers interested in quantifying vegetation change through time across public rangelands in the western United States.