Forests are critically important for life on earth, prompting a variety of efforts to protect them. Protected areas and logging regulations are the most commonly used forest conservation strategies, but local traditions and religious beliefs can also protect natural resources by limiting exploitative use. We compared the effectiveness of protected areas, a logging ban, and sacred areas to protect forests from logging in Northwest Yunnan, China, a global biodiversity hotspot. We combined Mahalanobis matching and panel regression techniques to measure effectiveness of these three protection strategies paying special attention to old growth forest communities. We found that protected areas had no impact on total forest cover, but effectively conserved old-growth forests relative to non-protected areas. The implementation of the logging ban resulted in positive forest conservation outcomes over most of the landscape. The exception was that logging in old-growth forests inside sacred areas accelerated following the implementation of the logging ban, suggesting that local institutions may have been weakened by official policies. Our research finds little evidence that overlapping conservation policies decrease deforestation and suggests that the implementation of official policies may displace local forms of protection. Our results further highlight that relying on total forest cover as a single indicator of conservation outcomes can lead to misleading conclusions about the impacts of forest protection strategies.