Welcome to the Jungle
Not all who destroy the forest do it for personal gain or malintent. Sometimes, it is simply done out of ignorance, or a need for survival.
For example, in many areas of the Amazon -- especially at the fringes between civilization and the forest -- land is slashed and burned to raise cattle and/or build a homestead. For many families this is often the only means for income or sustenance.
In other cases, people simply follow the example set before them. While the law allows for 20% of land to be clear cut (by its legal owners,) a perverse incentive exists to cut more given that pastureland reaches higher valuations than non-performing forest properties. This “neighborly” approach has a snowball effect as cities develop deeper into the forests.
While neither of these scenarios exist to take advantage of the land, they exist nonetheless. At present time, there is little being done to educate, or enforce proper land use. There are also many other examples that, regardless of intent, contribute to the loss of valuable forest land.
Timelapse of the impact of clearcutting near a small growing city in the Amazon
However, there are still those who take advantage of a lack of enforcement and operate in the interest of personal gain, at the expense of the land.
Take for example “professional squatters” who will invade an area, clear cut it, and sell the land to cattle ranchers. This activity is clearly illegal, both clear cutting without a license, and selling land they do not own, but the Amazon is huge, so it’s very difficult for Brazilian officials to enforce the laws or keep track of every squatter. Even though satellite imagery makes it possible to detect illegal clear cutting, accessibility remains a challenge. There is little to no equipment for police forces to use that will enable them to stop it from occurring.
It is also true that many illegal loggers weigh the financial reward of selling timber against the smaller risk of being caught. These bad actors have no regard for sustainable forestry practices and care not about the destruction they leave behind. Combined with others who destroy the land for personal gain, we are left with one of the earth's most important resources (at a time when we need it most) literally disappearing.