Forests cover approximately 30% of the world’s land area, providing vital economic resources and ecosystem services. The world’s forest resources, however, are unevenly distributed, with the majority concentrated in just a handful of countries. This article will examine the countries with the largest share of the world’s forests. We will look at the top 6 countries by forest area – Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States, China, and Australia – which together account for over half of the global forested land. Though forest area has declined globally, these nations with the most significant forest resources play an integral role in conservation efforts. Their forestry policies and practices have an outsized impact on issues like climate change, biodiversity, and sustainable development. Understanding the distribution of global forests is key to promoting good forest stewardship worldwide.
Russia contains 20.2% of the world’s forests, the largest share globally. With over 809 million hectares of forested land, Russia’s boreal forests in its northern territories comprise the largest area of untouched woodland in the world. The Russian boreal forest alone contains more than 50% of the planet’s conifers. These northern boreal forests consist primarily of larch, pine, spruce and fir trees. Russia’s extensive forests provide habitat for a diversity of wildlife species and help regulate global climate through carbon sequestration. The remote boreal forests also contain rich mineral deposits that drive Russia’s mining and materials industries. However, Russia’s vast forests face threats from illegal logging, mining, oil and gas extraction, and forest fires. Balancing economic development with forest conservation remains an ongoing challenge. But with proper safeguards, Russia’s immense forests represent a vital global resource.
Brazil comes in 2nd with 12.2% of the world’s forests, making up nearly 519 million hectares of forest across the country. As home to the vast Amazon rainforest, Brazil contains the largest contiguous tropical forest in the world, spanning across 9 countries in South America. The Amazon rainforest accounts for over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest on Earth. Destruction of the Amazon has accelerated in recent years due to logging and fires intentionally set to clear land for agriculture. Conservation of the Amazon rainforest plays a critical role in reducing global warming and protecting endangered species. The Brazilian Amazon absorbs 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year and is key to regulating global climate patterns. Despite efforts by the Brazilian government and environmental groups, deforestation of the rainforest continues at an alarming rate. Preservation of Brazil’s forests is an important global priority, considering the Amazon’s immense size, biodiversity, and influence on the world’s climate and carbon cycle.
Canada contains 8.6% of the world’s forest area, spanning approximately 310 million hectares of land. This represents about 9% of Canada’s total land area. The vast majority of Canada’s forests consist of boreal forests located in the northern and central parts of the country. Boreal forests are characterized by coniferous trees like pine, spruce and fir. The boreal forest contains some of the largest intact forest ecosystems left in the world. Canada’s boreal forests provide habitat for many species including bears, wolves, moose and woodland caribou. They play an important role in regulating climate, purifying water and air and storing carbon. Canada’s forests are federally owned as Crown forests, provincially owned, or privately owned. About 94% of forested lands are on public land, while 6% are privately owned. Forestry is an important industry in Canada, focused largely on lumber, pulp and paper production. Sustainable forest management practices are aimed at maintaining the health and productivity of these forest ecosystems.
The United States has 7.7% of the world’s forest area, covering 310 million hectares of forest land. This makes the US the fourth largest forest country in terms of total forest area. The variety of biomes and climates across the US contribute to the diversity of forest types. From the boreal forests of Alaska to the tropical rainforests of Hawaii, American forests include temperate broadleaf and mixed forests, temperate coniferous forests, and temperate rainforests. Iconic tree species like coast redwoods, giant sequoias, ponderosa pines, and eastern hemlocks can be found growing across the country.
The forested regions provide invaluable ecosystem services, from wildlife habitat to water filtration to carbon sequestration. They are home to many plant and animal species, some of which are threatened or endangered. Sustainable forestry practices, conservation efforts, and national parks/reserves help protect these important forest resources for current and future generations. Overall, America’s significant forest area reflects its size, varied climates and habitats. Managing and maintaining healthy, biodiverse forests remains an important priority, as these wooded landscapes form core parts of the nation’s natural heritage.
China contains 5.5% of the world’s forests, spanning approximately 2.08 million square kilometers. This makes China’s total forest area about half the size of the Amazon rainforest. China has undergone significant reforestation efforts in recent decades. After years of deforestation that caused flooding and other environmental issues, China instituted major tree planting initiatives starting in the 1970s. This increased China’s forest coverage from approximately 12% in the 1980s to over 22% today. The Chinese government has made reforestation a priority through projects like the Three-North Shelter Forest Program, which aims to plant trees across northern China to hold back the Gobi Desert.
While China has made progress, forests continue to face threats from urbanization, infrastructure projects, and degradation from invasive species. Sustaining healthy forests across China’s diverse landscapes remains an ongoing challenge requiring active regeneration and protection efforts. Overall though, China’s forests have rebounded compared to earlier eras of overlogging and are headed in a greener direction.
Australia contains approximately 3.3% of the world’s forests, spanning around 134 million hectares across the country. The majority of Australia’s forests consist of eucalyptus trees, making up nearly 90% of the total forest area. Eucalyptus forests are iconic of Australia and many species are endemic to the continent. Eucalypts have adapted to the harsh Australian climate and are highly resilient to drought, fire, and poor soil quality. Common eucalypt species include Eucalyptus obliqua (messmate), E. regnans (mountain ash), E. pilularis (blackbutt), and E. globulus (Tasmanian blue gum).
The eucalyptus forests provide vital habitat for Australia’s unique wildlife, including koalas, which feed exclusively on eucalyptus leaves. They also play an important ecological role in nutrient cycling, soil stabilization, and water filtration. Many eucalyptus species are harvested for timber, pulp, and fuel wood products. However, extensive land clearing has led to declines in certain eucalypt ecosystems, such as the Grassy Eucalypt Woodlands found in parts of Queensland and New South Wales. Careful management and conservation efforts are needed to ensure the health of these iconic forests into the future.
Forests cover approximately 30% of the world’s land area, providing vital habitat for millions of species and important ecosystem services for humans such as climate regulation, clean air and water, and carbon sequestration. However, despite their importance, global forest area continues to decline at an alarming rate due to deforestation and land conversion. This article reviewed the current share of the world’s forests by the top 6 countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States, China, and Australia. Together these nations account for over half of the planet’s forested land. Russia contains the largest area of forests at 20.2% of the global total, mostly boreal forest across its northern regions. Brazil is second with 12.2% of the global forest area within the Amazon rainforest region. Canada, the U.S., China, and Australia contain smaller but still significant forest areas.
Forest conservation is a global priority, as these ecosystems regulate climate, support biodiversity, and provide numerous services critical for life on Earth. All countries must recognize the immense value of forests and work to protect remaining woodlands. Sustainable forest management policies that balance utilization with conservation are essential to prevent further loss of forest habitats and resources. The future livelihood and well-being of humanity ultimately depends on our stewardship of the world’s forests.