My project exposes the relationship between imperial expansion, changes in normative practices of forest conservation, and the process of colonization in central New Spain between 1521 and 1650. I argue that as a result of the negotiation of Crown sovereignty between the Spanish colonial government and local elites in central Mexico, unsustainable practices were institutionalized at all administrative levels and buttressed by complex patronage network that increasingly aligned the interests of colonial authorities in Mexico City with the economic ambitions of regional elites. Using a conceptual model I call the “colonial pyramid,” I demonstrate that political and ecological change were inexorably bound up within the process of colonization, since the negotiation of imperial sovereignty allowed for the extensive illegal abuse of indigenous woodlands that often served indigenous Nahua peoples to offset poverty and onerous tribute obligations. Because of their unique position within the colonial system, indigenous leaders were often complicit collaborators in this process. Using both legal and extra-legal methods, indigenous people fought to protect their communal forests, but their successes and failures were often conditioned by their subordinate position within New Spain’s great patronage networks. My project integrates methodologies from historical ecology, geography, and social history to provide an in-depth analysis of how shifts in Hispanic governance and resource management in New Spain influenced the establishment of Hispanic power, how indigenous communities responded to ecological, cultural, and political pressures, and how ecology and history came together within this process.