Government based Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) have been criticized for not maximizing environmental effectiveness through appropriate targeting, while instead prioritizing social side-objectives. In Mexico, existing literature on how the Payments for Ecosystem Services-Hydrological program (PSA-H) has targeted deforestation and forest degradation shows that both the process of identifying the eligible areas and the choice of the selection criteria for enrolling forest parcels have been under the influence of competing agendas. In the present paper we study the influence of the PSA-H multi-level governance on the environmental effectiveness of the program–the degree to which forest at high risk of deforestation is enrolled- building from a “policyscape” framework. In particular, we combine governance analysis with two distinct applications of the policyscape framework: First, at national level we assess the functional overlap between the PSA-H and other environmental and rural programs with regard to the risk of deforestation. Second, at regional level in the states of Chiapas and Yucatan, we describe the changing policy agenda and the role of technical intermediaries in defining the temporal spatialization of the PSA-H eligible and enrolled areas with regard to key socio-economic criteria. We find that, although at national level the PSA-H program has been described as coping with both social and environmental indicators thanks to successful adaptive management, our analysis show that PSA-H is mainly found in communities where deforestation risk is low and in combination with other environmental programs (protected areas and forest management programs). Such inertia is reinforced at regional level as a result of the eligible areas’ characteristics and the behaviour of technical intermediaries, which seek to minimise transaction costs and sources of uncertainty. Our project-specific analysis shows the importance of integrating the governance of a program in the policyscape framework as a way to better systematize complex interactions at different spatial and institutional scales between policies and landscape characteristics.