Indonesia is undergoing major policy changes, seeking to expand social forestry designations from less than 1% (1.1 million hectares) to over 10% (12.7 million hectares) of the Forest Estate. Expanding designations is at once a landmark reform and a call for caution, raising questions about policy intentions, and practical concerns about legal, technical, and implementation mechanisms. Social forestry literature highlights three key tenets, namely efforts that: confer rights to local communities, support livelihoods, and achieve conservation outcomes. This paper examines social forestry implementation from a cross-section of sites in South Sulawesi by reflecting on sustained action research between 2012–2016. The approach critically juxtaposes social forestry policy intent with implementation at three different sites. Findings indicate social forestry implementation suffers from historically problematic state enclosures and flawed land administration processes, entrenched politicaleconomic interests among local actors, and lack of institutional engagement beyond the permitting process. Shortcuts to addressing entrenched conflict will only heighten tensions or further marginalize the most vulnerable, without guarantees to conservation outcomes.