We analyzed the dynamics of forest cover change between 1990-2010 in eleven Chinantec indigenous communities in the Sierra Norte of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Five communities exhibited collective action for forest conservation (with-CAC) and the remaining six did not (without-CAC). Using supervised classification of Landsat satellite images from three dates (1990, 2000 and 2010) we obtained maps of forested/non-forested conditions. We then crossed maps for 1990-2000 and 2000-2010 to generate maps of change processes (deforestation and revegetation) and annual rates of change. In general, forest cover was relatively stable (~90%), but there were significant differences between the forest cover in communities with- CAC and without-CAC. In the first, there was greater forest cover, less permanence of the non-forested condition, and lower rates of change. In the communities without-CAC there was greater re-vegetation between 2000-2010, but forest recovery does not appear to have been intentional, since the communities had no initiatives for taking care of their forests. In the communities with-CAC there has been influence of advisors, academics, and programs with governmental and non-governmental entities, and these have had little presence in the without-CAC communities. Improved understanding of the dynamics of high ecological value forests in common property, such as those in the northern part of Oaxaca State, is fundamental for better orientation of public policy focused at local forest in Mexico.