Forest conservation includes stemming deforestation as well as preserving its vegetation condition. Traditional Protected Area (PA) effectiveness evaluations have assessed changes in forest extent but have mostly ignored vegetation condition. Tiger Reserves (TRs) are India's PAs with highest protection and management resources. We used a before-after-control-impact-style design with long-term Landsat 5 TM data to evaluate the effects of protection elevation on vegetation condition (greenness and moisture) in 25 TRs. After declaration as TRs, vegetation condition in 13 TRs (52%) declined in more than 50% of their areas, with 12 TRs (48%) being overall better than their matched Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLSs; PAs with lower protection). In 8 of these TRs analysed for change from before to after declaration, vegetation condition in 5 TRs was harmed over more than 25% of their areas, with 3 TRs being overall better than their matched WLSs. Our results indicate extensive vegetation browning and drying in about half of the study TRs, with these trends often being similar or worse than in matched WLSs. These results suggest that TRs' elevated protection alone may be insufficient to preserve vegetation condition and cast doubt on the effectiveness of protection elevation alone in safeguarding long-term viability of tiger habitats.