Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a well-established conservation policy approach worldwide. Where forests are owned and managed by rural and indigenous communities, PES initiatives often aim to incentivize the joint adoption of forest protection and sustainable management practices. However, not all communities might have the will or capacity to maintain such practices over the long term. This article examines a PES programme in a rural community of Chiapas, Mexico. It shows that while a majority of the community's landowners have engaged in PES through two distinct working groups, a large share of the community forests remain outside the PES programme, and many landowners resist the extension of PES rules to non-targeted forests. The authors argue that this incipient form of fragmented collective action on forest management results from challenged leaderships, and from PES accommodating a history of increasing individuation of the commons. This accommodation, however, has ignited social conflict, reified tenure inequalities, and failed to strengthen local institutions to enable them to legitimately deal with the contested interests that underpin the fate of community forests. This article shows the limits of PES when parachuted into a context of uneven land tenure, weak collective action and contested leaderships.