The history of forestry in British India has evoked a wide range of responses from environmental historians. Debates often centre in particular on the ethic of the bureaucratic organisation responsible for managing the government-controlled forests of India: the Indian Forest Service. Born on the subcontinent and rooted in the European scientific tradition, the Indian Forest Service model, or “empire forestry” as it came to be called from the 1920s onward, has been described as a first step in the world-wide environmental movement or, alternately, as the culprit responsible for widespread deforestation of the subcontinent. This article will address a key aspect of the debate over the Indian Forest Service (hereafter referred to as the IFS) that has profound implications for our understanding of the relationship -between imperialism and forestry conservation. By examining the tension between conservation-minded foresters who battled against timber companies and economically focused imperial bureaucrats, we answer the following question: did the IFS develop a legacy of deforestation throughout the subcontinent between 1855 and 1947? We conclude that the IFS did not develop a dominant ethic of resource exploitation, nor did the IFS rapidly accelerate the rates of deforestation during the colonial period. Rather, the IFS provided a powerful and persuasive counterweight to gentleman capitalists and economically oriented administrators who strenuously battled for more extensive exploitation of forest resources.