Questions of state formation and public authority have been at the top of the development and political agenda in Nepal since 2006. The post-2006 so-called ‘political transition’ has been characterized by rising ethnic tensions, violence, strikes, and a bewildering kaleidoscope of leaders gaining political leverage, only to be marginalized again. In 2015, the Constitution was finally adopted following the earthquakes and amid violent protests from groups who felt their needs were marginalized in the final version. In this article we are concerned to probe how struggles over different technologies of government help throw into relief the various terrains within which public authority is claimed and contested, and, as a result, help to expose the limits of the state. Using the forestry sector as an ethnographic lens, we argue that there is both a profound failure by the state to provide services and stable governance as well as an ability to reproduce itself and to function in some contexts. It is therefore important to understand public authority during this period as both stable and unstable—and at times, instability is what helps to perpetuate particular imaginaries of the Nepali state.