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What is a Patch Cut?

By Paul Scott
Updated May 17, 2024
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A patch cut is a silviculture or forestry regeneration practice which involves the removal of all trees in a block or patch of typically less than 2.5 acres (1 hectare) from a forest system. Patch cutting is a variation of the larger scale and more controversial clearcutting practice with several distinct advantages. A patch cut creates less of a visual and environmental impact in forested areas, is easier to manage, and holds several regeneration benefits common to other, less flexible, felling practices. Patch cuts are generally carried out in even-aged tree stands and, although they generally form a group of harvested areas, are individually managed as separate openings or cuts.

Silviculture is a forestry industry practice which focuses on the renewal of harvested forest resources. The core principles involve controlling tree densities, growth rates, and general health of tree stands as well as the composition of tree stocks in any given area. An essential part of silviculture from a forestry point of view is the way in which tree stocks are harvested.

Clearcutting is one of the silviculture practices which have become the subject of debate due to the large scale deforestation involved. It involves the non-selective felling of all, or at least most, of the trees in a forested area. This has obvious effects on local ecosystems because of the wholesale destruction of natural habitats in addition to the inescapable aesthetic effect of large scale landscape denuding. The patch cut, although technically a variation of clearcutting, is a far less intrusive method of harvesting timber with greatly reduced latency for the forests as a whole.

Patch cutting involves the complete removal of all trees from an even-aged area of forest no larger than 1 hectare. Not only does this create less of a visual disturbance but it also can preserve the habitat as a whole. Once the trees have been cleared, the rejuvenation process can be managed using natural or artificial methods such as seeding or planting new trees. A patch cut also allows for the regeneration process to focus on shade tolerant tree species which is generally only possible with selective cutting systems. Patch cuts are, however, easier to clear and rejuvenate than selective cuts due to the complete removal of trees which creates even-aged re-growth.

Individual patch cut areas will typically be part of a series of areas cleared at the same time. They are each treated, however, as an individual cut or clearing, thereby making for better overall control of diverse forest areas. Patch cut logging has the additional benefit of having minimal impact on the overall biodiversity of any given forested area. As a logging practice, it also creates less potential for soil erosion and flooding.

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