This article centers on labor in Madagascar and the ways in which colonial labor regimes have shaped forest conservation efforts. During the interwar period, the French colonial state launched two initiatives: it reinvigorated forest conservation measures and it conscripted male youths for public works. I analyze the effects on Malagasy subjects of the state's two-pronged effort to valorize Malagasy labor through compulsory road and rail works and to valorize Malagasy forests through conservation and commodification. I argue that these initiatives sent contradictory messages to Malagasy people about the proper land-labor relationship. One entailed a combative relationship to land, rock, and trees, while the other stressed the protection of forests. State officials maintained the contradictions of their “civilizing mission” by conceptually and administratively separating public works from forest conservation, or labor from the preservation of nature. However,in light of their physical relationship to the land and the organization of their labor relations in compulsory work camps and in the forest service,young men from eastern Malagasy villages have not conceptually distinguished these colonial practices in the same manner.

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