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This article draws on archival sources and oral histories to describe changing post-colonial land management in the North Pare Mountains of Tanzania. The independent state transformed colonial institutions but did not maintain colonial common property regimes for water source, irrigation and forest management. Farmers responded by encroaching upon and dividing the commons. After 1967, Tanzania's socialist policies affected environmental conditions in North Pare indirectly by increasing the ambiguity and negotiability of resource entitlements. The material, social and cultural legacies of these processes include environmental change, declining management capacity and persistent doubt about the value of ‘conservation’.