Forest Ownership

Who Owns America's Forests? 

  • The United States has about 7.5 percent of the world’s forests.
  • A total of a little over 741 million acres of forest land (Oswalt, et. al. 2014)
  • Three different forest ownership types in U.S.: Federal, State, and Private
  • Breakdown of forest land by ownership categories (Oswalt, et. al. 2014):
    • Federal: 238,469,000 acres (96,505,000 hectares)
    • State, county, and municipal: 82,700,000 acres (33,468,000 hectares)
    • Private: 445,071,000 acres (180,114,000 hectares)
      • Private corporate: 147,460,000 acres (59,270,000 hectares)
      • Private non-corporate: 297,600,000 acres (120,434,000 hectares)
    • Tribal lands: forthcoming
  • Federal and State agencies manage public lands for the American population for a multitude of uses, including conservation, production, and recreation.
  • Federal agencies managing public federal forested lands include:
    • US Forest Service: 145,229,000 acres (58,772,000 hectares)
    • Bureau of Land Management: 38,104,000 acres (15,420,000 hectares)
    • Other (primarily US Park Service and Dept. of Defense): 55,137,000 acres (22,313,000 hectares)
  • Over 50% of U.S. forest land is owned and managed by more than 10 million private owners, with the top percentage being ‘family and individual’ owned parcels of forest lands averaging less than 10 ha in size (Seneca Study).[1]. These owners represent a diverse group of people who have many reasons for owning their forest land.
  • One of the most robust, longest running national forest inventory and analysis system(s) in the world. The Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) has been in continuous operation since 1930, with a mission to “make and keep current a comprehensive inventory and analysis of the present and prospective conditions of and requirements for the renewable resources of the forest and rangelands of the U.S.” Using the latest technologies to acquire data through remote sensing and field activities, and in cooperation with States, industry, academia, and private landowner partners, the FIA reports on the most current information about forest health and productivity in each State every five years (FIA Fact Sheet Series 2/3/05).

Category of Forests in the United States

  • In the U.S., there are lands designated specifically for timberland/production use, as well as reserved forest; however, many lands are considered multiple use forestland (in other words, the forestland is managed and used for a combination of production, protection, recreation, aesthetics and other services that forests provide) (US FS-1036, August 2014).
  • For the purposes of simplicity, based on FIA 2012 data:
    • Recognized Timberland: 521,400,000 acres (211,003,000 hectares)
    • Reserved Forests (lands not managed for timber harvest, and harvest prohibited by law on these lands in most cases): 74,132,000 acres* (30,000,000 hectares)
      • *Note: This current count of Reserved Forests does not include some protected areas, such as the National forest roadless areas (which are considered IUCN Class VI. These roadless areas, (which account for approximately 13 million ha) are currently reported under ‘timberland.’ New inventories will provide more accurate data to place these lands in their proper category.)
    • Other forests (woodlands, scrub forests, urban forests): 187,800,000 acres (76,000,000 hectares)


[1] Goetzl, Alberto; Ellefson, Paul; Guillery, Phillip; Dodge, Gary; Berg, Scott. “Assessment of Lawful Harvesting and Sustainability of U.S. Hardwood Exports.” Seneca Creek Associates, LLC for American Hardwood Export Council (2008).

Breakdown of forest land by ownership categories:

  • Federal: 31%(238,496,000 acres)
  • State, county, and
    municipal: 10%(82,700,000 acres)
  • Private: 59%(445,071,000 acres)

Category of Forests in the United States:

  • Recognized timberland:
    67% (521,400,000)
  • Reserved Forests:9%(74,132,000 acres)
  • other Forests:24%(187,800,000 acres)