There is a fair degree of misplaced optimism about common property resource (CPR) management. In investigating common property issues for woodlands in communal areas in Zimbabwe, there are numerous case studies showing a breakdown of local institutions for CPR management, and the lack of any emerging alternative institutions for such management. There are a number of contributing economics, social and ecological factors to this phenomenon. This article argues that the formal rule-based systems that form the cornerstones of the proposed CPR systems are far removed from the current institutional systems, rooted in norm-based controls. It suggests that advocacy of CPR systems has to be tempered with critical analysis.