The precise application of the term varies by jurisdiction. For example:
- In Australia, it refers to forest that is protected by state laws, rather than by the Government of Australia.
- In Austria, the state forests are managed by the Österreichische Bundesforste
- In Germany, it is called the Bundesforst, or federal forest, which is controlled by the Bundesforstverwaltung ("Federal Forest Office")
- In New Zealand, it is forest that is controlled by a central government agency.
- In Poland, state-owned forests are managed by the State Forests agency
- In the United Kingdom, it refers to any forest (usually plantations) owned and managed by the Forestry Commission.
- In the United States, it refers to a forest owned by one of the individual states.
The purpose of a state forest varies between countries and the quality of the landscape it covers. In most places, state forests are divided into land for logging plantations, area for conservation, area for livestock grazing and area for visitor recreation.