Objective. Satellite-based remote-sensing analysis is a beneficial, yet underused, tool for environmental policy, planning, and evaluation. We identify its benefits and costs to encourage social scientists to consider the use of remote sensing as a tool for planning and evaluating environmental institutions. Methods. We analyze two multispectral Landsat Thematic Mapper satellite images to evaluate a habitat conservation plan (HCP) implemented pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Results. Image analysis provides useful broad spatial scale information on HCP performance that is not discernible to the naked eye or through other methodologies. Conclusions. Satellite image analysis should be considered as a tool for planning and evaluating environmental institutional designs—despite the financial costs and requisite technical training. These images provide ecological and land cover change information that may not be available elsewhere. We provide lessons learned to help make analysts cognizant of some important issues surrounding the use of satellite-based imagery for environmental institutional analysis.