Colombia's main environmental problems are soil erosion, deforestation and the preservation of its wildlife. Soil erosion has resulted from the loss of vegetation and heavy rainfall, and the soil has also been damaged by overuse of pesticides. Deforestation has resulted from the commercial exploitation of the country's forests which cover approximately 45% of the country. Approximately 908,000 hectares (2,244,000 acres) of natural forest were lost annually in the 1970s to farming, erosion, and the lumber industry, but only 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) were reforested each year; between 1981 and 1985, 820,000 hectares (2,260,000 acres) were lost each year, and 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) were reforested. Between 1983 and 1993, Colombia lost another 5.8% of its forest and woodland. By the mid-1990s, Colombia had the tenth-largest area of mangrove swamps in the world, covering under half a million ha (1,235,500 acres). The nation ranked forty-third globally in industrial carbon dioxide emissions in the early 1990s, with a total of 61.5 million metric tons. In 1996, total emissions were at 63.3 million metric tons. Air pollution from vehicle emissions is also a problem, especially in Bogota. Safe drinking water is available to 99% of urban dwellers and 70% of the rural population.
The Colombian government has initiated several programs to protect the environment. By 1959, the Amazon forests, the Andean area and the Pacific coast were protected. In 1973, the government created the National Resources and Environment Code. The main environmental agency is the Institute for Development of Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment (INDERENA), established in 1969. Among other activities, it has undertaken extensive projects in the training of personnel in conservation, fishing, and forestry. The Colombian Sanitary Code, in force since January 1982, establishes pollution control standards. The National Environmental Education Plan for 1991–94 introduces environmental issues in the elementary schools.
Endangered species in Colombia include the tundra peregrine falcon, Cauca guan, gorgeted wood-quail, red siskin, pinche, five species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback, and arrau), two species of alligator (spectacled caiman and black caiman), and two of crocodile (American and Orinoco). By 2001, 35 of Colombia's 359 species of mammals, 64 in a total of 1,770 breeding bird species, 15 reptile species in a total of 356, and 429 of 51,000 plant species were endangered. The Colombian grebe and the Caribbean monk seal have become extinct.