As of 1986, it was estimated that the forests of the Amazon were being cleared for colonization, pasturage, timber development, and other commercial purposes at a rate of up to 20 million hectares (50 million acres) a year. As of the mid-1990s, this figure has decreased. From 1990 to 1995, the average annual rate of deforestation was 0.46%. A 20-year US-Brazilian project, initiated by the World Wildlife Fund, in Washington, D.C., and the National Institute for Research on Amazonia, in Manaus, studied the Amazon forest since 1978 in order to recommend appropriate measures for its protection. A Brazilian law requiring that developers leave 50% of each Amazon land parcel untouched is erratically enforced. Only 4.4% of Brazil's natural areas were protected in 2001. Federal agencies with environmental responsibilities include the National Environment Council of the Ministry of the Interior, the Brazilian Institute of Forest Development, and the Ministry of Planning. Other environmental problems in Brazil include water pollution and land damage. Rivers near urban industrial centers are polluted by mercury, toxic industrial wastes, and untreated waste. Brazil lacks fertile soil for agriculture, and the existing soils are threatened by erosion from the clearing of the forests.
The damage to the rain forest environment is reflected in the number of endangered species which inhabit the region. Between 1900 and 1950, 60 species of birds and mammals became extinct. As of 2001, 71 species of mammals, 103 species of birds, and 751 plant species are endangered. The list of endangered species includes Lutz's coastal frog, the Lear's macaw, the guayaquil great green macaw, the American crocodile, two species of marmoset (buffy-headed and white-eared), three species of tamarin (golden lion, golden-headed lion, and golden-rumped lion), the black saki, the woolly spider monkey, and the maned sloth. The Glaucous macaw has recently become extinct. In December 1987, the Brazilian senate enacted a law to ban whale hunting within the country's territorial waters.