To stem the ongoing loss of biodiversity, conservation practitioners must distinguish between effective and ineffective approaches for protecting species habitats. Using Google Earth Engine and 31 years of Landsat images, we quantified changes in the habitats of 24 vertebrates listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List across categories of land ownership (eg federal, state, private) in the continental US that are subject to different conservation‐focused legal restrictions. These estimates exclude changes attributable to agricultural conversion and burned areas. The imperiled species we evaluated lost the least amount of habitat (3.6%) on federal lands, whereas losses on private lands without conservation easements were more than twice as high (8.1%). Differences in annual percent loss before and after ESA listing, and between ESA‐listed and Red List species, indicate that the ESA limited habitat loss and was most effective on federal lands. These results underscore the importance of federal lands in protecting habitat for imperiled species and highlight the need to improve habitat protection on private lands for long‐term conservation.