Natural ecosystems are under severe threat worldwide and environmental policies are essential to minimize present and future impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem services and climate change. The New Forest Act in Brazil is the main policy to protect native vegetation in private lands, which comprise 54% of the remaining Brazilian native vegetation. However, conflicts between environmental and agricultural concerns in its implementation demand for balanced solutions based on scientific evidence. To face the challenge of applying science in environmental policy establishment, we developed a scientific project funded by the São Paulo State Research Foundation (FAPESP) to support the implementation of the New Forest Act in São Paulo State, as part of the Biota/FAPESP Program. The project was conducted differently from a regular research project: the broad objective was to provide scientific support to the State’s implementation of the New Forest Act, based on a participatory interaction among stakeholders to build specific objectives, methods, and discussion of results, within an interdisciplinary and intersectoral research team. Here, we present the lessons learned during and after the four years of the research project development to evaluate how scientific knowledge can be produced and adopted in the implementation of a specific environmental policy. We present the main outcomes and the challenges faced in trying to include scientific data in the decision-making process. We also present current and future challenges in the New Forest Act implementation that could be solved with scientific evidence. The lessons learned showed that even designing the project in order to meet the needs to support the implementation of the environmental policy, avoiding difficulties normally pointed out by similar projects, there was a great difficulty for scientific contributions to be adopted in the decision-making process. Most of the scientific information and advice, even after discussion and common understanding among a diverse stakeholder group, were ignored or over-ruled in the final decision-making phases.