Nearly all of Costa Rica was once covered by forests, but deforestation for agricultural purposes and cattle ranching has reduced virgin forest to only 25% of the total area. Between 1990 and 1995, the country lost an average of 3% of its forests and woodlands annually. Most of the wood is wasted by burning or rotting, and there is little incentive for conservation or reforestation. The result has been soil erosion and the loss of soil fertility. Another serious problem, according to the UN, has been contamination of the soil by fertilizers and pesticides used in growing important cash crops, such as bananas, sugarcane, and coffee. Costa Rica's use of pesticides is greater than that of all the other countries in Central America added together. Under the General Health Law of 1973, the Ministry of Health has broad powers to enforce pollution controls, and the Division of Environmental Health has attempted to set standards for air and water quality. However, trained personnel and equipment are lacking. Carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources totaled4.6 million metric tons in 1996. As of 2001, Costa Rica has 112 cu km of renewable water resources with 80% of the total used for farming activity. Of the nation's urban dwellers 99% have safe drinking water, as do 92% of the rural population. The coastal waters are threatened by agricultural chemicals and lowlands often flood at the beginning of the rainy season.
Costa Rica's national park system is among the most extensive and well developed in Latin America. The system, covering nearly 4% of the total land area, includes 12 parks, six nature reserves, four recreation areas, the Guayabo National Monument archaeological site in the Turrialba region, and the International Peace Park established jointly by Costa Rica and Panama on their common border. Altogether, 14.2% of Costa Rica's total land area is protected. Although Costa Rica protects some 80 animal species by law, the IU recognizes only nine species as being endangered: the red-backed squirrel monkey, tundra peregrine falcon, spectacled caiman, American crocodile, four species of sea turtle (green sea, hawksbill, olive ridley, and leatherback), and golden toad. Of 205 mammal species in Costa Rica, 14 are threatened. Thirteen breeding species of birds in a total of 600 are also threatened. Seven types of reptiles in a total of 214 and 296 plant species in a total of 12,000-plus are considered endangered.