Benjamin Weil, UCSC
"Conservation and the Imperial Indian Forest Service"

ABSTRACT: British imperialism in South Asia presents a paradox of
conservationist intentions and extreme environmental degradation.
British India was an early site of systematic protection of natural
resources for expressly conservationist reasons.  However, the
ecological outcome has been nothing short of disaster.  This paper
explores the way a combination of centralization, bureaucratization,
and the hegemony of a particularly narrow sort of scientific knowledge
transformed the mental landscape of British officialdom in India and
thus the physical landscape as well. Faced with the increasing
difficulty of making the a conservationist argument for its role in
landscape management and public works, the Indian Forest Service
eventually turned away from its conservation mission and towards
profitable extraction.

This question of institutional purpose is tied up with questions of
identity and esprit de corps the corporate culture of the Forest
Service.  As the voice of the Forest Service for most of its history,
The Indian Forester offers a window onto the ideas and values to which
the most junior forest officer and the most senior conservators alike
were exposed.  Analyzed over time, it can serve as a sort of cultural
barometer, suggesting the general trends in concerns and issues
prominent in the consciousness of members of the forest bureaucracy.
The Indian Forester was widely read by foresters throughout the British
Empire and America and so its influence was felt worldwide. This paper
combines both a quantitative and qualitative study of items appearing
the journal from its inception in 1875 to 1927.  The quantitative study
supplements the more traditional historical sources to confirm some
theories, call others into question, and reveal correlated aspects of
Indian colonial forestry that might not immediately suggest themselves
in a normal perusal of the sources and secondary literature.  This
paper explores the ways that the Indian forest department, founded by
generalists with holistic understanding to prevent the overexploitation
of common resources, became a highly specialized bureaucracy concerned
with maximizing extraction and financial profitability. While still
stressing long-term sustainability, the emphasis of the departmental
culture was squarely on the short-term economic benefits of forest
management rather than on the indirect benefits of forest conservation
like flood control, erosion reduction, and climate change.