Informed by debates on development discourse, local knowledge, and the history of colonial conservation, this article argues for a careful historical investigation of the manner in which scientific managerial knowledge emerges in the field of forestry. It makes its case by focusing on the specific period in the history of Bengal (1893–1937) when scientific forestry was formalized and institutionalized. The processes and conflicts through which local knowledge gets encoded as scientific canon have to be understood to generate effective managerial devolution in participatory projects. This requires an engagement with public understandings of science as practice that arises from a dynamic critique of static, and undifferentiated, notions of development discourse or local knowledge.