The rapid destruction of Thailand's forests during the last century is often explained by population pressure and in particular by the encroachment on forest areas by shifting cultivators. This discourse is still dominant within the forestry department today, and is now being directed against ethnic minorities in the North. However, the attempt to construct an ethnic explanation of forest conflict neglects the active role played by the elite in the appropriation and depletion of forest resources. This paper analyses the twists and turns in Thai forestry as the outcome of policies pursued by different strategic groups, and shows that conflicts over forest resources gave rise to organisation by rnarginalized sections of society. It is argued that the bankruptcy of state and corporate forestry in Thailand is due to the underlying strategies of elite groups, rather than institutional failure, and that contemporary farmer networks now offer alternative strategies for forest conservation.