Conservation areas are designated to protect biodiversity and resources by limiting anthropogenic stressors. In Indonesia, conservation areas account for almost 23 percent of the state forest with extremely limited allowable uses. Previous policy interventions to support community and traditional uses have never been very successful due to the deep roots of bureaucratic politics originally defined to safeguard biodiversity. This deadlock created by the two major laws governing forestry and conservation areas has been broken with recent permits for geothermal projects in conservation areas. The rationale is to provide an environmental service (renewable energy) and to address global concerns for climate mitigation. This paper examines how the deadlock is broken at least temporarily for geothermal development and maintained for social forestry. Arguments and findings presented in this paper are drawn from content analysis, interviews, and long-term engagement among the authors observing operationalization of conservation policies in Indonesia, both in Java and outer islands. We propose the operational framework of deadlock opportunism as a way to highlight the processes of breaking a deadlock by legitimizing particular interests (geothermal development) through green and populist narratives, while hollowing out claims of other interests (social forestry). Although anticipation of breaking the deadlock through geothermal development has encouraged numerous policies and programs developed for social forestry, we argue these developments actually camouflage the underlying legitimacy of communities and keep them from accessing lands within conservation areas. We believe the concept of deadlock opportunism and the operational framework can provide new insights for understanding progress (or lack thereof) of certain policies in their lifecycles in other parts of the world.