Conservation policies are increasing in response to human-induced ecosystem degradation, but little is known about their interplay with natural disasters. Through an analysis of satellite imagery and field data we evaluated the impacts of a devastating earthquake on forest recovery and avoided forest loss estimated to have been obtained by two of the largest conservation programs in the world. Results show that more than 10% of the forests in Wenchuan County, Sichuan province, China were immediately affected by the 2008 earthquake, offsetting some gains in forest cover observed since the enactment of the conservation programs. But without the enactment of these conservation programs, the combined effects of human disturbance and earthquake-induced landslides could have severely reduced the region's forest cover. The continuation--and enhancement--of incentives for participation in conservation programs will be important for reducing the environmental impacts of the combined effects of human disturbance and natural hazards not only in the study area but also in many disaster-prone regions around the world.