The Redwood Creek Unit of Redwood National Park is located in the downstream end of an exceptionally rapidly eroding drainage basin. Spatial distribution and types of erosional landforms, observed in the field and on time-sequential aerial photographs, measured sediment loads, and the lithologic heterogeneity of streambed materials indicated (1) that sediment discharges reflect a complex suite of natural and man-induced mass movement and fluvial erosion processes operating on a geologically heterogeneous, naturally unstable terrain, and (2) that although infrequent exceptionally intense storms control the timing and general magnitude of major erosion events, the loci, types, and amounts of erosion occurring during those events are substantially influence by land use. Erosional impacts of past timber harvest in the Redwood Creek basin reflect primarily the cumulative impact of many small erosion problems caused not so much by removal.
Recently modified riparian and aquatic environments reflect stream channel adjustments to recently increased water and sediment discharges, and are classified by the National Park Service as damaged resources because the modifications reflect, in part, unnatural causes.
Newly strengthened State regulations and cooperative review procedures result in proposed timber harvest plans being tailored to specific site conditions, as well as smaller, more dispersed harvest units and more sophisticated attempts at minimizing ground-surface disruption than those used in most previous timber harvesting in this basin. However, application of improved timber harvest technology alone will not assure protection of park resources. Much remaining intact residual commercial old-growth timber is on hillslopes that are steeper, wetter, more susceptible to landsliding, and more nearly adjacent to major stream channels than most of the previously harvested hillslopes in the lower Redwood Creek basin. Moreover, natural debris barriers along streams flowing through remaining old-growth forest have temporarily stored substantial quantities of sediment introduced into streams by recent storms and upstream land-use changes. Removal of merchantable timber from these barriers may destroy their stability and cause rapid release of stored sediment. Additionally, massive erosion in some recently harvested areas suggest that they are so erosionally sensitive that following rehabilitation and reforestation, they should not be reharvested. Thus, in order to maintain site productivity and to protect downstream park resources, some erosionally critical areas may have to be maintained as perpetual timber reserves dedicated to watershed protection. Selective Federal acquisition of just erosionally critical acreage would create ownership patterns that would make management of both parklands and commercial timber lands exceedingly difficult.