Students of social-ecological systems have emphasized the need for effective cross-scale governance. We theorized that discursive barriers, particularly between technical and traditional practices, can act as a barrier to cross-scale collaboration. We analyzed the effects of discursive divides on collaboration on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) policy development in Central Kalimantan, an Indonesian province on the island of Borneo selected in 2010 to pilot subnational REDD+ policy. We argue that the complexities of bridging local land management practices and technical approaches to greenhouse gas emissions reduction and carbon offsetting create barriers to cross-scale collaboration. We tested these hypotheses using an exponential random graph model of collaboration among 36 organizations active in REDD+ policy in the province. We found that discursive divides were associated with a decreased probability of collaboration between organizations and that organizations headquartered outside the province were less likely to collaborate with organizations headquartered in the province. We conclude that bridging discursive communities presents a chicken-and-egg problem for cross-scale governance of social-ecological systems. In precisely the situations where it is most important, when bridging transnational standards with local knowledge and land management practices, it is the most difficult.