International donors and state bureaucrats in the developing world have promoted decentralization reform as the primary means to achieve equitable, efficient and sustainable natural resource management. Relatively few studies, however, consider the power interests at stake. Why do state agencies decentralize power, what political patterns unfold, and how do outcomes affect the responses of resource users? This paper explores decentralization reform by investigating the political processes behind the Philippine state s decisions to transfer authority over national parks management to local government units. Drawing on a case of devolved management at Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Palawan Island, we examine how political motives situated at different institutional scales affect the broader process of decentralization, the structure of management institutions, and overall livelihood security. We demonstrate how power struggles between the Philippine state and City Government of Palawan over the right to manage the national park have impacted the livelihood support offered by community-based conservation. We conclude that decentralization may offer empowering results when upper-level policies and political networks tie into sufficiently organized institutions at the local level. (c) 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd.