Forests occupy some 55% of the land area and total 22.6 million hectares (55.8 million acres). The percentage has only varied between 55.5% and 58.1 since the first National Forestry Inventory of 1923–29. Virtually all of Sweden's forests are regrowth; virgin forests cover 788,000 ha (1,947,000 acres) and are almost exclusively found in national parks and nature reserves. The growing stock is estimated at 2,710 billion cu m(95.7 billion cu ft). The annual growth amounts to about 96.3 million cu m (3.4 billion cu ft). Annual removals decreased from an average of 70.8 million cu m (2.5 billion cu ft) during 1970/71–1974/75 to an average of 55.5 million cu m (1.96 billion cu ft) during 1976/77–1980/81 but increased to roughly 72 million cu m (2.54 billion cu ft) during recent years. Important varieties include spruce (46% of commercial stands), pine (38%), birch (11%), and oak, beech, alder, and aspen (5% combined). About half of the total forest area is owned by private persons and 40% by private corporations and rural communes. The government owns most of the remaining 10% of forests, but they are located, for the most part, in the north, where climatic conditions slow the trees' growth.
Forestry and farming are interdependent everywhere except in the most fertile plains; in northern Sweden, almost one of every two men works in the woods for at least part of the winter. Both the number of workers and the productivity of those who stayed on declined in the late 1970s. Since the early 1970s, the number of employees in the forestry sector has fallen by over 40%.
The exploitation of forest wealth ranks second in importance in the economy (after metal-based industry). Sweden competes with Canada for world leadership in the export of wood pulp and is the world's leading exporter of cellulose. In 2001, net exports of wood and wood products came to $10.6 billion and made up 14% of exports. The total timber felled in 2001 amounted to an estimated 75.6 million cu m (2.67 billion cu ft), of which coniferous sawlogs accounted for 52% of production; pulpwood, 37%; fuel wood, 9%; and other items, 2%. Mostly roads and trains are used to transport timber; only a few of the biggest rivers are used. About 70% of timber harvested comes from clear-cutting, and 30% from thinning. About 60% of Sweden's annual forestry production is exported every year. Sweden is the third largest exporter of paper and board, supplying 13% of the export market, with production amounting to 4% of the world's total. In 2001, Sweden's 1,875 saw mills processed 15.6 million cu m (551 million cu ft) of lumber, 45 mills produced 11 million tons of pulp, and 48 paper facilities manufactured 10.5 million tons of paper.
A forest policy introduced in 1980 coordinates forestry measures more closely with industrial needs and places increased emphasis on clear-cutting and more complete use of the forest biomass, including stumps and small trees. The government, through the Forest Commission, enforces pest control, the prevention of premature cutting, and the use of proper methods of preserving permanent forest cover. The government decided in the early 1990s to eliminate subsidies to commercial forestry because such subsidies had been counterproductive in a strongly competitive international market.