There is general agreement that terrestrial systems in the Northern Hemisphere provide a significant sink for atmospheric CO2; however, estimates of the magnitude and distribution of this sink vary greatly. National forest inventories provide strong, measurement-based constraints on the magnitude of net forest carbon uptake. We brought together forest sector C budgets for Canada, the United States, Europe, Russia, and China that were derived from forest inventory information, allometric relationships, and supplementary data sets and models. Together, these suggest that northern forests and woodlands provided a total sink for 0.6–0.7 Pg of C per year (1 Pg = 1015 g) during the early 1990s, consisting of 0.21 Pg C/yr in living biomass, 0.08 Pg C/yr in forest products, 0.15 Pg C/yr in dead wood, and 0.13 Pg C/yr in the forest floor and soil organic matter. Estimates of changes in soil C pools have improved but remain the least certain terms of the budgets. Over 80% of the estimated sink occurred in one-third of the forest area, in temperate regions affected by fire suppression, agricultural abandonment, and plantation forestry. Growth in boreal regions was offset by fire and other disturbances that vary considerably from year to year. Comparison with atmospheric inversions suggests significant land C sinks may occur outside the forest sector.