Illegal deforestation has become an omnipresent part of economic activity in the Brazilian Amazon. Mongabay went to Rondônia state to meet some of the loggers who benefit from the dodgy market, then traces the path of logs going to “informal” sawmills, moved by river to ports, maybe to become decking in the U.S. or EU.Some experts hoped that COVID-19 would slow Amazon deforestation, but early indications are that the reverse is happening. From January to April 2020, the rate of Amazon deforestation alerts rose sharply by 55%. Deforestation is linked closely with fires, so a challenging fire season is expected this year.In this exclusive two part story and photo essay, we first follow the activities of Amazon loggers seeking highly-valued woods, and then trace the actions of miners scratching out a meager living seeking gold in the rivers of Rondônia state. When we drove into an agrarian reform settlement in Rondônia state in the Brazilian Amazon last September, we were not welcomed, but received with suspicion. No one asked our names. Nor did we proceed with the traditional journalistic practice of requesting and writing down the full names, ages and occupations of those we interviewed. That was our tacit agreement with locals in the illegal wood harvesting business: we weren’t there to get them arrested or to make accusations, but merely to observe them at their work — to understand their motivations and record images of the Amazon deforestation machine deep within the so-called Arc of Deforestation, a clear cut crescent-shaped swathe from Rondônia in the west, to Pará state on the Atlantic coast. We spent a couple of weeks in Rondônia, stepping into the universe of illegal loggers and miners, a rainforest landscape inhabited mostly by men, though also women, who treat their work in the employ of often shadowy elites, as perpetually shifting “temporary arrangements.” When asked about the legality of cutting down the Amazon’s towering trees, or mining for gold that poisons Amazon rivers with silt and mercury, these poorly paid men seemed resigned to their fates. They justify their jobs in this gig economy simply: “We have to survive somehow,” they tell us.