Because of heavy cutting, the forest resources of El Salvador had been reduced to about 6% of the total area by 1996. Forty-five percent of the wood taken from the forests is used for fuel. Peasant farmers burn the small trees and other growth on the hillsides to plant corn and beans, thus hastening the erosion of the topsoil. Seventy-five percent of the land area in El Salvador is threatened by erosion and desertification at a rate of 20 tons per hectare per year. The government enacted forestry conservation measures in 1973, but they have had little effect on the rate of deforestation. Among the environmental consequences of forest depletion, in addition to loss of soil fertility, are diminution of groundwater resources and drastic loss of native flora and fauna. Pollution is widespread and restrictions on waste disposal, including disposal of toxic waste, are lax. El Salvador's cities produce over 0.5 million tons of solid waste per year. By 1993, 90% of El Salvador's rivers were polluted. Safe drinking water is available to 91% of the urban population and 64% of the rural dwellers. Forty-six percent of the nation's 17.7 cu km of renewable water sources is used for agricultural purposes. There is no comprehensive national law controlling environmental protection, and the legislation that is on the books is poorly enforced. The National Environmental Protection Committee, established by decree in 1974, has had little impact.
The pollution of the environment in El Salvador is a serious threat to the survival of its plants and wildlife. As of 2001, only0.2% of its total land area was protected. As of 2001, two mammal species in a total of 135 were threatened. Six of 73 types of reptile are also threatened. Of 2,900-plus plant species, 8 are considered endangered. Endangered species in El Salvador include the tundra peregrine falcon, four species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley), American crocodile, ocelot, spectacled caiman, jaguar, giant anteater, and Central American tapir.