The precise application of the term varies by jurisdiction. For example:
- In Australia, it is 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 is any forest (usually plantations) owned and managed by the Forestry Commission.
- In the United States, it is 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 many places, state forests are divided into land for logging plantations, area for conservation, area for livestock grazing and area for visitor recreation.
As an example, in the state of California, the Redwood National and State Parks are a string of protected forests, beaches and grasslands along Northern California's coast. These are owned by both the U.S. federal government, and the State of California. 
- Bearss, Edwin C. (1969). Redwood National Park; History Basic Data. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Division of History, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation.
- "Redwood National and State Parks (U.S. National Park Service)". nps.gov. Retrieved 24 April 2018.