Communal management of natural woodlands has a long history in the Himalayan state of Uttar Pradesh in India. This paper described local institutional mechanisms governing use of woodland products in two villages. Despite well established legislation, management was becoming less effective. History showed that this decline was not innate to common property resources, but rather due to a wide range of linked transitions, such as emigration, shifting market incentives and external interventions (by the state and a local NGO), leading to changes in residents' attitudes to forests and each other. Women, who were most directly dependent on forest resources, were sidelined in forest committees. The author suggested that better communication and a realistic appraisal of household needs could reinvigorate community forestry.