The present State of Karnataka came into being with effect from 1st November, 1956, as per the provisions of the States Reorganization Act, 1956 by integrating the old Mysore State, portions of the former Bombay and Madras Presidencies, some areas of the former Hyderabad State, and the former State of Coorg. As major portion of the re-organized State was from the old Mysore State, it was then named as Mysore State and was later rechristened as Karnataka in 1973. Organized management of the forest areas coming under the present day Karnataka started during the latter part of the 19th century under the British administration. Prior to the establishment of Forest Departments, forest-related matters were looked after by Revenue officials.

Mysore State 1864 - 1901

In old Mysore State, Mysore Forest Department was established on 11th January 1864 and an army officer Major Hunter, was appointed as Conservator of Forests. The Department then had a complement of five officers - Major Hunter as Conservator and his four assistants, Lt. G.J. Van Somerson, Lt. E.W.C.H. Miller, Mr. C.A. Dobbs, all Assistant Conservators and Mr. Madhava Rao, Sub-Assistant Conservator. Major Hunter was followed by Lt. Van Somerson, who held the post till 1879. In between 1879 and 1885, the Deputy Commissioners of the districts were put in charge of the forests, after abolishing the post of Conservator of Forests. In 1886, Mr. L. Rickets was appointed as the Inspector General of Forests, but the Deputy Commissioners continued to be in charge of the forests in the districts, and they were assisted by small establishments of Rangers, Foresters and Watchers. The Department was organized to some extent with 16 officers. Mr Rickets was succeeded by Mr. Campbel-Walker in 1895 and Mr. Pigot in 1899. During this time, Mr. M. Muthanna, a trained forester, belonging to the Indian Forest Service was appointed as the Conservator of Forests and ex-officio Secretary to the Government.

1901 - 1935

In 1901, after the retirement of Mr. Pigot, Mr. Muthanna became the Head of the Department and he steered the Department for twelve long years. Mr. Muthanna held the stewardship of the Department for over 12 years. It was during Mr Muthanna’s tenure that the Forest Department was organized on a sound footing. More and more areas were declared as Reserved Forests. Working Plans were prepared for forest areas ushering in scientific forest management. After his retirement in 1913, Mr. M.G. Rama Rao succeeded him in 1914. This coincided with the outbreak of the First World War, which had a terrific effect on Mysuru Forest economy by cutting off the traditional export markets for sandalwood, so much so that out of the 1,313 tons of sandalwood offered for sale in 1914-15, not more than 70 tons could be sold. The Government decided to open their own factory for distillation of the wood. A factory in Bengaluru and later, a bigger unit in Mysuru, proved highly successful. Mr. B.V. Rama Iyengar succeeded Mr. M.G. Rama Rao as Conservator in 1921 and later as Chief Conservator. He has held the record of the longest spell of any officer in the history of the Department as its Head, retiring in 1935 after more than 14 Years.

1935 - 1956

Mr. M. Machaya succeeded Mr. Rama Iyengar as Chief Conservator in 1935. In 1939, a few weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War, Mr. C. Abdul Jabbar, an officer on deputation from Madras Presidency, succeeded Mr. Machaya as Chief Conservator. Mr. Jabbar’s term of office was practically coterminous with the war, he retiring in 1945. During the decade 1946-56, the Department grew from strength to strength, expanding both in activities and income. A Silviculturist was appointed for the first time. A State Soil Conservation Board was set up and the Sandal Spike Committee was revived. And, at about the end of 1956, the Central Government took over the Forest Research Laboratory to be developed as a regional Centre of Forest Research in the South. The old Mysore State initially comprised eight districts, namely, Bangalore, Kolar, Tumkur, Mysore, Hassan, Chikmagalur (Kadur), Shimoga and Chitradurga. In 1939, Mandya district was carved out of Mysore district.

Bombay Presidency, Madras Presidency, Hyderabad State, Coorg State

In Bombay Presidency, which included the districts of North Kanara, Belgaum, Dharwar and Bijapur, Forest Department was established in 1847 with Dr. Alexander Gibson as its Conservator. In Madras Presidency, which included the South Kanara and Bellary districts, and Kollegal taluk, Forest Department was established in 1856 with Dr. Hugh Cleghorn, a civil surgeon, as its first Conservator. In Coorg C State, a Forest Conservancy Department was started in 1865. It was headed by the Conservator of Forests, Mysore. In the Hyderabad Princely State, which included the districts of Gulbarga, Bidar and Raichur, Forest Department was established in 1867. However, the Department was run by non-professionals till the appointment of a trained European Imperial Forest Service officer Mr. Ballantine, in 1887.