The development discourse maintains that community-based approaches are generally equitable, sustainable, and legitimized strategies for the management of natural resources. It remains frequently unnoticed that the policies and legal frameworks designed to regulate such local governance approaches oftentimes are externally initiated and top-down in nature, and frequently not adapted to local demands and capacities. Significant differences between the goals of such interventions and the lived reality and associated unintended effects were often concealed within the debates. A similar indication can be stated for Kyrgyzstan’s pasture law, which demands that local communities are fully responsible for the management of pasturelands. The recent innovation in pasture law has not comprehensively resulted in the desired outcomes on the ground. Based upon a comparison of Kyrgyzstan’s pasture-related legislation with the impacts of its implementation in the walnut-fruit forest region located in the south-west of the country, this article points out that community-based pasture management in local practice appears to have resulted in hybrid institutional arrangements comprising aspects of the existing formal legislation and local- specific informal regulations. Simultaneously, case-specific circumstances, particularly the constellation of uneven power holders and interest-driven players and their interactions, as well as the respective socio-economic conditions, highly influence the resource management performances on the ground. The actual outcomes do not necessarily correspond to the requirements of the formal legislation. They can even contradict the requirements of the formal legislation and generate subsequent problems. At a first glance, due to the assumed high participation of the immediate users and the belief in their supposedly intrinsic interest in eco-friendly resource use, community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) approaches seem to have a great potential for creating economic, social, and ecologically sustainable development at the local level. However, the risk of failure is high if the whole approach rests on an apolitical understanding of communities as being homogenous and tensionless groups of social organization and on an idealized image of their ecological awareness. A consistent development strategy that goes beyond the mere definition of unspecific goals has to take the community-specific power relations and the respective socio-economic conditions into consideration. It is also necessary to consider the local needs and costs for CBNRM and the opportunities for its implementation, in order to ensure the adequate representation and participation of all interested resource users within the management bodies and the decision-making processes. If requested, appropriate support should also be provided to communities in need, to assist the transition to the envisaged new regime. Taking these aspects into consideration, Kyrgyzstan’s approach for a community-based pasture management could become a more successful and broadly accepted instrument to empower the people at the local level and to enable comprehensively sustainable resource management practices on the ground.