Forests and pastoralism are in a state of crisis in the Borana lowlands in southern Ethiopia. State management has failed to control forest exploitation and past and present development interventions continue to undermine pastoral production systems. In this paper the authors aim to show how a fundamental misunderstanding of pastoral land management, and in particular pastoral tenure systems, has undermined traditional institutions and the environment for which they were once responsible. They describe the diversity of people and institutions that use or manage the Borana forests today and the challenges that this presents in attempting to develop a new system for management. In particular, they look at the nature and status of relationships between customary institutions (mainly the Borana Gadaa) and more modern actors and institutions. And they present the process by which we are addressing these challenges to establish a collaborative system of management for local forest areas, with a focus on socio-political solutions, in order to slow the rapid decline of pastoral livelihoods and pastoral systems.