Many forested steeplands in the western United States display a legacy of disturbances due to timber harvest, mining or wildfires, for example. Such disturbances have caused accelerated hillslope erosion, leading to increased sedimentation in fish-bearing streams. Several restoration techniques have been implemented to address these problems in mountain catchments, many of which involve the removal of abandoned roads and re-establishing drainage networks across road prisms. With limited restoration funds to be applied across large catchments, land managers are faced with deciding which areas and problems should be treated first, and by which technique, in order to design the most effective and cost-effective sediment reduction strategy. Currently most restoration is conducted on a site-specific scale according to uniform treatment policies. To create catchment-scale policies for restoration, we developed two optimization models - dynamic programming and genetic algorithms - to determine the most cost-effective treatment level for roads and stream crossings in a pilot study basin with approximately 700 road segments and crossings. These models considered the trade-offs between the cost and effectiveness of different restoration strategies to minimize the predicted erosion from all forest roads within a catchment, while meeting a specified budget constraint. The optimal sediment reduction strategies developed by these models performed much better than two strategies of uniform erosion control which are commonly applied to road erosion problems by land managers, with sediment savings increased by an additional 48 to 80 per cent. These optimization models can be used to formulate the most cost-effective restoration policy for sediment reduction on a catchment scale. Thus, cost savings can be applied to further restoration work within the catchment. Nevertheless, the models are based on erosion rates measured on past restoration sites, and need to be up-dated as additional monitoring studies evaluate long-term basin response to erosion control treatments. Copyright ?? 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.