There is a need to adapt biodiversity conservation to climate change, but few empirical studies are available to guide decision-making. Existing networks of protected areas (PAs) have been preferentially colonized during species’ range expansions, but this could be due to their original habitat quality and/or to ongoing management activity. Here, we examine how PA status and active conservation management have influenced the range expansion of a butterfly Hesperia comma through fragmented landscapes. PAs under active conservation management were over three times more likely to be colonized than unprotected, unmanaged sites of the same basic vegetation type. Conservation action also increased the survival rate of existing populations inside and outside of PAs. We conclude that PAs facilitate range expansions by preventing habitat degradation and encouraging active conservation that improves habitat quality, and that conservation interventions on nondesignated sites also have a role to play in adapting conservation to climate change.