In 2013, policy makers from the Brazilian state of Amapá launched regulatory reforms intended to streamline options to formalize smallholder forest management. This paper reviews that policy reform process and analyses observations from local stakeholders to identify lessons for the promotion of smallholder forestry. In 2014, 2017 and 2021, interviews were conducted with family timber producers and sawmill operators in floodplain communities and regional timber buyers to evaluate the impact of the policy reform on their operations. Interviews with policy makers sought to understand the rationale behind the reform and how the process played out. Although the reform efforts were well intentioned, results illustrate how bureaucratic inertia and complexity obstructed efforts to simplify policy and how policy did not address smallholder needs. While the reforms did not have the intended effect, the case offers lessons for future policy reform efforts.