High resolution airborne hyperspectral and discrete return LiDAR data were used to assess bare soil and tree cover differences along a land use transect consisting of state-owned, privately-owned conservation areas, and communal areas in South African savannas. The results show that tree cover is higher in conservation areas as compared to communal areas where local people use fuel wood for personal consumption. Low impact communal sites (limited use) tend to have higher tree cover than higher impacted communal sites. Generally communal areas have altered tree height distribution but in diverse way depending on the geology or the level of human utilization. Bare soil cover was generally found to be quite low (< 10%) in all different land uses, suggesting that the degradation level in communal areas might not be as high as generally perceived.