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Forest ownership in the UNECE region

The UNECE region covers 1.89 billion ha of forest and other wooded land, 41.4% of the global total, as compared to 34.8% of land area and 18.3% of population. The region’s share of the world’s forests in 2015 is one percentage point more than ten years ago. The average forest cover in the region is nearly 42%, higher than the world average, which is 31%. The region’s forests are not evenly distributed: three countries, Russia, Canada and the United States of America account for 1.6 billion ha, 85% of the region’s forest and other wooded land (UNECE/FAO, 2015).

A lake in the forest

Although over 80 percent of the UNECE region’s forests are publicly owned, the region is characterized by the most diverse ownership structures in the world. However, apart from Canada and the Russian Federation which share almost two thirds of the UNECE region’s forests, in the remaining part of the region the shares of public and private forests are almost equal. Within the two broadest categories of ownership, public and private, forests are owned and managed through a variety of tenure and institutional arrangements. The Pan-European region adds to this complex picture even more than the others.
Find out more about the forest ownership situation in the UNECE region in the thematic inter-active database.

State of Forest Ownership in the UNECE Region - Publication

To understand how ownership is changing, and the implications for management and policy, the UNECE and the FAO, in cooperation with the COST Action FACESMAP as well as EUSTAFOR and FECOF developed a study “State of Forest Ownership in the UNECE Region”, based in large part on a survey of national data and expert opinion. The study is available here.

The FAO Forest Resources Assessment defines forest ownership as “the legal right to freely and exclusively use, control, transfer, or otherwise benefit from a forest. Ownership can be acquired through transfers such as sales, donations, and inheritance” (FAO, 2018). 
The FAO definition implies that forest ownership conveys exclusive legal rights over the forest resource, such as the right to fully utilize, control (manage) the forest, and/or transfer those rights to others. However, forest owners seldom have the full range of exclusive legal rights to “use, control or transfer” when it comes to benefiting from their forest, in particular, since ownership rights pertaining to forests are always, to a lesser or greater extent, restricted by legal regulations and social customs associated with the forest land in question.
Property rights associated with ownership and tenure are often allocated only in part to the land owner, as well as to public authorities and/or other stakeholders. The complexities of property ownership is often explained using the “bundle of rights” framework (Schlager and Ostrom, 1992). The bundle of rights framework essentially explains how a property can be simultaneously owned by several entities and characterises the property rights system into five distinct categories:

Recent Meeting

The meeting on the State of Forest Ownership in the UNECE Region-trends-opportunities-challenges, took place in Brussels on 14 December 2018. More information is available at the meeting page:


For more information on forest ownership in the UNECE region please find relevant information and documentation further below or contact Mr.Roman Michalak (UNECE/FAO).

National Reporting Process

The central element of the Forest Ownership Project is the national reporting carried out according to the Forest Ownership Questionnaire. The Questionnaire was developed jointly by the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section in cooperation with COST Action FACESMAP and reviewed and revised several times by the relevant bodies and stakeholders.

The Questionnaire was disseminated among the UNECE/FAO national correspondents in the beginning of June 2015. UNECE/FAO national correspondents are invited to provide information on the forest ownership situation in their country. During the reporting process the UNECE/FAO correspondents can seek advice and support from COST Action FACESMAP correspondents who represent the 30 countries participating in this research network.

The national reporting delivered exclusive data for the production of a study on forest ownership in the UNECE region. The gathered data as well as the study is publicly available here.

Forest ownership related data from the past international reporting, can be found in:

The work on forest ownership was endorsed as one of the activities of the UNECE/FAO Integrated Programme of Work 2014-2017 at the joint meeting of ECE Committee on Forests and the Forest Industry (COFFI) and FAO European Forestry Commission (EFC) in Rovaniemi, Finland, 9-13 December 2013 (Metsä2013).

To optimize the use of available resources and to reduce a national reporting burden the UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section joined forces in developing the study with the European Cooperation in Science and Technology Action on Forest Land Ownership Changes in Europe: Significance for Management and Policy (COST Action FACESMAP) – please see the scheme. COST Action FACESMAP is a project to be implemented from 2013 to 2016 through the establishment of a voluntary research network, and focuses on forest ownership in Europe. The work programme of the COST Action FACESMAP includes the production of a database and a map of forest ownership in Europe. The established research network of COST Action FACESMAP consists of researchers from 30 European countries who collaborate on related issues such as typologies of forest ownership, ongoing changes in the European forest ownership structure, and their implications for forest management and policy.

The Forest Ownership project of UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section and the COST Action FACESMAP is supported by an informal Core Group of partners who provide valuable advice and support. The Core Group consists of members coming from organizations representing forest owners and managers, and/or with expertise in the field of forest ownership, namely the Confederation of European Private Forest Owners (CEPF), the European Forest Institute (EFI), the European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR), the Federation of European Communal Forest Owners (FECOF), the U.S. Forest Service and the Unión de Selvicultores del Sur de Europa (USSE).

The overall work on forest ownership is supported and guided by the Joint UNECE/FAO Working Party on Forest Statistics, Economics and Management, the UNECE/FAO Team of Specialists on Sustainable Forest Management and the COST Action FACESMAP research network.

The main outputs of this joint project are the Forest Ownership Questionnaire which is the main tool for data collection in the reporting process as well as a study on forest ownership in the UNECE region.


The Forest Ownership Project is jointly led by:


UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section




Confederation of European Private Forest Owners (CEPF)




European Forest Institute (EFI)




European State Forest Association (EUSTAFOR)




European Federation of Municipal Forest Owners (FECOF)


U.S. Forest Service




Unión de Selvicultores del Sur de Europa (USSE)


Related studies



Last update date: December 22, 2021