Collaborative management, or co-management, is recognized as best practice for protected area management. A vast literature explores the benefits and challenges of implementing co-management, but more literature is not always better. We propose that the term co-management has been uncritically “stretched”, losing its original framing of actors working together collaboratively. Co-management has become a facade under which traditional hierarchical and market-based management regimes can occur. Conceptual stretching inhibits the capacity to critically articulate variations within models of collaborative governance. We investigate this stretching through a nuanced framework of co-management models with varying intensities. By considering participating actors, institutions and delivery objectives, the theoretically informed and empirically tested framework highlights the stretched implementation of co-management, enabling protected area managers an opportunity to align their practice with the promise of co-management.