Over the past several decades, the Brazilian State of Rondônia has been the destination of many rural migrants drawn from Brazil's middle southern regions by massive government colonization projects. Factors such as explosive population growth, logging, mining, small-scale farming and ranching have synergistically fuelled deforestation in the state. The total area deforested in Rondônia in 1978 was 4200 km2. In 1988, the area increased to 30 000 km2, in 1998 to 53 300 km2 and by the year 2003, a total of 67 764 km2 of Rondônia was deforested. In response to the high rate of deforestation observed in Rondônia and other Amazonian states, state and federal agencies worked to create a network of conservation units (CUs) in Brazil during the 1990s that was signed into law(Law 9985/00) in 2000. The ability of these CUs to reduce the rate of deforestation was analysed. Remotely-sensed data from Landsat and thematic coverages were used to measure deforestation inside all CUs in Rondônia. A more detailed analysis of CUs with the highest levels of deforestation, including an analysis between soil types and deforestation and a forecast of potential future deforestation, was conducted. The creation of conservation units in Rondônia has been useful in curbing deforestation within their boundaries; however, many CUs face pressure from the combined activities of illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and small-scale farmers seeking new sources of timber and agricultural land. For example, an exponential increase in the amount of deforestation was observed in Rondônia's Bom Futuro National Forest between 1992 and 2000. A regression model indicated a total of 20 500 ha deforested by 2002, while measurements from 2002 imagery showed an actual total deforestation of 20 720 ha. Should this trend persist, Bom Futuro National Forest could be completely deforested by 2017. CUs in Rondônia must be developed and implemented jointly by all stakeholders through the creation of partnerships between local communities, non-governmental organizations and government agencies.