At times of booming commodity prices, a critical question concerns the factors driving subnational authorities to implement forest protection regulations in active agricultural frontiers. Focusing on one of the world’s deforestation hotspots, the Argentine Chaco Forest, we argue that subnational variation in the implementation of forest protection legislation is driven by governors’ attempts to avoid conflict produced by agricultural expansion. Through process-tracing, we show how governors’ implementation decisions—regarding both the design and enforcement of provincial regulations—sought to mitigate pressures from large producers opposed to clearing restrictions and from various groups contesting agricultural expansion. As the power of these actors varies across provinces, governors’ conflict avoidance strategies resulted in markedly different subnational regulations as well as contrasting levels of enforcement and deforestation. We substantiate our argument through an empirical strategy that combines department-level geocoded data on deforestation and levels of forest protection in the Argentine Chaco with extensive fieldwork and interviews in the core provinces in which the forest is located. Our findings aim to contribute to academic debates in political science and environmental science on the determinants of subnational policy and deforestation, respectively, and have the potential to inform both donors and policymakers about the factors shaping the uneven impact of decentralized arrangements to combat climate change.