Decentralisation in Cambodia has long been propagated as a means to enhance local engagement with governance structures. But in the forestry sector, even limited devolution of powers often constrains local user groups with excessive bureaucratic burdens. In addition, entrenched political economy interests tend to inhibit effective governance. To investigate the apparent institutional malaise that seems to characterise community forestry sites in Cambodia, this study employed a mixed methods approach to evaluate capacities to engage in collective action on forest governance. In our two case studies, community forestry is characterised by the exclusion of younger and poorer households from formal meetings, high costs and limited benefits for members, informal information channels where women and poorer households are excluded, low levels of formalisation, high enforcement costs and massive external pressures. The article calls for community forest entities to develop locally-adapted graduated sanction mechanisms through the receipt of greater support for internal monitoring and enforcement.