Use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in vulnerable environments may cause vegetation and soil erosion that will last for a long time. In northern parts of Norway, the growing use of ATVs off-road has made considerable damage to the environment. In Troms County, the Norwegian Army has exercise and shooting ranges (battlefields) where there has been extensive use of light, medium and heavy armored military vehicles and ATVs for decades. The main objective of this study has been to test the feasibility of high spatial resolution satellite imagery as Ikonos and Quickbird in combination with fieldwork to detect tracks and damage caused by heavy armoured military vehicles (tanks) as well as medium and light ATVs. Applying simple image processing techniques, this study showed that larger parts of these areas were influenced and even small tracks and minor damage on the vegetation caused by small ATVs were easily detected. The total length of the tracks within the battlefields was calculated to be c. 1000 km. Using a zone of damage/influence of 50 m on each side of the tracks, the damaged and/or influenced area by ATVs was estimated to cover 56 km2 (17 per cent) of the total area of 334 km2. The conclusion of this study is that high-resolution optical satellite images are well suited for surveying damage on the vegetation caused by terrain vehicles in northern Norway. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.