Neoliberal land reforms to increase economic development have important implications for biodiversity conservation. This paper investigates land reform in New Zealand’s South Island that divides leased state-owned stations (ranches) with private grazing leases into state-owned conservation land, private land owned by the former leaseholder and private land under protective covenant (similar to conservation easement). Conserved lands had less threatened vegetation, lower productivity, less proximity to towns and steeper slopes than privatized lands. Covenants on private land were more common in intermediate zones with moderate land-use productivity and slope. Lands identified with ecological or recreational ‘significant inherent values’ were more likely to shift into conserved or covenant status. Yet among lands with identified ecological values, higher-threat areas were more likely to be privatized than lower-threat areas. This paper makes two novel contributions: (1) quantitatively examining the role of scientific recommendations about significant inherent values in land reform outcomes; and (2) examining the use of conservation covenants on privatized land. To achieve biodiversity goals, it is critical to avoid or prevent the removal of land-use restrictions beyond protected areas.