Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) implementation strategies articulate different aims, goals, and interests across different scales of governance and social-ecological contexts. When SFM is implemented in common pool or public forests, governmental initiatives play a central role in defining formal institutions that will interact with the local social-ecological context. At the same time, local actors’ practices on governing common pools forests are also a key-factor in SFM implementation. This paper analyses, through a critical institutionalism lens, how interactions between a new set of formal institutions with pre-existing local institutions result in (un) expected governance outcomes when implementing SFM on the ground. Using the Caatinga biome in Northeast Brazil as a case study, it shows how local actors (bricoleurs) perform institutional bricolage processes by rejecting, adapting, or integrating institutions linked to SFM implementation strategies to their social-ecological contexts. The paper is based on a qualitative data analysis from twenty interviews with local and governmental actors, and nine site visits to rural settlements and industries. The analysis leads us to conclude that formal SFM institutions in Caatinga do not dialogue with all the different roles that forests resources have in the livelihood of local actors, but rather have a dominant focus on the production of forest biomass for energy supply. Moreover, we found that the success of SFM implementation is highly dependent on the interactions amongst local actors within the social-ecological context. Accordingly, positive results are only achieved when these interactions help to face challenges, specifically those linked to bureaucracy and to technical capacity.