Protected areas are the leading forest conservation policy for species and ecoservices goals and they may feature in climate policy if countries with tropical forest rely on familiar tools. For Brazil’s Legal Amazon, we estimate the average impact of protection upon deforestation and show how protected areas’ forest impacts vary significantly with development pressure.We use matching, i.e., comparisons that are apples-to-apples in observed land characteristics, to address the fact that protected areas (PAs) tend to be located on lands facing less pressure. Correcting for that location bias lowers our estimates of PAs’ forest impacts by roughly half. Further, it reveals significant variation in PA impacts along development-related dimensions: for example, the PAs that are closer to roads and the PAs closer to cities have higher impact. Planners have multiple conservation and development goals, and are constrained by cost, yet still conservation planning should reflect what our results imply about future impacts of PAs.