Historical range of variability (HRV) characterizes the fluctuations of ecosystem structure and processes under natural disturbances, and is helpful in understanding the causes and consequences of ecosystem change, providing the researchers and managers a reference to evaluate the present status of ecosystems and guiding managers to develop effective management strategies to ultimately drive ecosystems to a sustainable state. In recent years, HRV has played an increasingly important role in forest ecosystem management, and has been successfully used in indicating the causes of ecosystem change, conservation of biological diversity and endangered species, and restoration of ecosystem function, etc. This paper outlined the concept of HRV, and discussed the applications, limitations (lack of data, environmental change, and human impacts, etc.), and challenges of applying HRV in forest ecosystem management. Strengthening data mining, focusing on the changes of natural environment and human society, and increasing the public's recognition of HRV would benefit the improvement of the application efficacy of HRV in forest ecosystem management, and make the forest ecosystem ultimately achieve a sustainable state.