Protected areas are intended to safeguard biodiversity in perpetuity, yet evidence suggests that widespread legal changes undermine protected area durability and efficacy. We documented these legal changes-protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) events-in the United States and Amazonian countries and compiled available data globally. Governments of the United States and Amazonian countries enacted 269 and 440 PADDD events, respectively. Between 1892 and 2018, 73 countries enacted 3749 PADDD events, removing 519,857 square kilometers from protection and tempering regulations in an additional 1,659,972 square kilometers; 78% of events were enacted since 2000. Most PADDD events (62%) are associated with industrial-scale resource extraction and development, suggesting that PADDD may compromise biodiversity conservation objectives. Strategic policy responses are needed to address PADDD and sustain effective protected areas.