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Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer

Craig Pittman

Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. He graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him "the most destructive force on campus." Since then he has covered a variety of newspaper beats and quite a few natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and the Florida Legislature. Since 1998 he has reported on environmental issues for the Times. He is a four-time winner of the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida and a series of stories on Florida's vanishing wetlands that he wrote with Matthew Waite won the top investigative reporting award in both 2006 and 2007 from the Society of Environmental Journalists. He is the author of four books: "The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid" (2012); "Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species," (2010); and, co-written with Waite, "Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss," (2009). His new book, < a href="http://www.amazon.com/Oh-Florida-Americas-Weirdest-Influences-ebook/dp/B019CB3UNQ"> "Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country,"hits stores in July 2016. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and two children.

Phone: (727) 893-8530

Email: craig@tampabay.com

Twitter: @CraigTimes

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  1. Endangered sparrows hatch in captivity, providing hope for species' future (w/video)

    Wildlife

    The population of Florida's most critically endangered bird just got a little larger.

    Four grasshopper sparrow chicks were hatched in a Loxahatchee laboratory this week, marking the first success of a captive breeding program launched out of fear the tiny birds were about to go extinct.

    The hatchlings, however, won't be released into the wild, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Warren....

    &#65279;A mother Florida grasshopper sparrow feeds four newly hatched chicks, a landmark success for a captive breeding program launched three years ago to save the species from extinction.
  2. Illegal shootings of hawks, ospreys and herons persist in Tampa Bay

    Wildlife

    One morning last month, Joel Strong of Zephyrhills stumbled on a horrifying sight near the end of his driveway: a red-shouldered hawk, bleeding, with both wings and one leg broken. Because he's an experienced hunter, he immediately saw what was wrong with the bird.

    It had been blown out of the sky by someone with a shotgun.

    Strong wrapped the injured hawk in a shirt and called Brandon resident Nancy Murrah of the Tampa Bay Raptor Rescue organization. She rushed the bird to veterinarians at Busch Gardens, where an X-ray showed eight shotgun pellets in its body. But the hawk was beyond saving. They had to euthanize it. ...

    Hawks are protected by both state and federal law.
  3. Springs group challenges Florida's computer model for permitting

    Water

    Computer models that Florida officials use to issue water use and pollution permits are flawed and need scientific review, an environmental coalition said in a challenge filed with the state last week.

    The Florida Springs Council — a coalition of groups focused on restoring the state's springs — tried to get its concerns about the modeling incorporated into a bill considered by the Legislature this year, but its suggestions were rejected by lawmakers....

  4. Florida needs a new slogan, so how about 'Don't tase the lovebugs?'

    Human Interest

    Florida has a lot of symbols: a state animal (the panther), a state reptile (the alligator), even a state sand (Myakka fine) and a state pie (key lime, of course). I've got no complaints about those.

    We've also got a familiar-sounding state slogan: "In God We Trust." It was adopted in 1868 after legislators copied it off the back of a silver dollar. Apparently there wasn't room on the state seal for the rest of it: "All Others Pay Cash."...

    A pair of love bugs climb across a car's freshly cleaned windshield in Brooksville.
  5. Florida bear hunt could happen again this October despite protests

    State Roundup

    Florida wildlife commissioners are proceeding with a second bear hunt later this year, despite continued opposition to the one held last year that claimed 304 bears.

    During a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting Wednesday, commission chairman Brian Yablonski noted that the state's administrative code calls for holding a hunt every October.

    Yablonski, a power company lobbyist first appointed to the commission in 2004 by former Gov. Jeb Bush, told his fellow commissioners to be ready to set a quota for the second hunt at their next meeting....

    Richard Sajko of Valrico talks about how he killed one of the two bears on the back of his pickup truck during the Florida black bear hunt in October at the Rock Springs Run Wildlife Management Area near Lake Mary. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  6. Feds want public comment on plan to develop panther habitat

    Wildlife

    Federal officials want to hear from the public about whether to permit a plan to allow oil drilling, mining and development in Florida's panther habitat — and to allow the killing of some panthers — in exchange for a promise to preserve some of that land.

    The officials are not only asking for comments on the proposal, but they're also holding public hearings, including one Tuesday night in Naples....

    Liesa Priddy, an Immokalee rancher, was appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012. She has urged the commission to write a new policy for how the state deals with panthers. Her ranch is one of eight large landowners that recently submitted a request for a federal permit to set new rules for the killing of panthers. [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission].
  7. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan: Don't weaken manatee protections

    Wildlife

    More than 3,300 people — including a Florida congressman — have sent written comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about whether manatees should still be classified as endangered.

    "I'm concerned that weakening protections will lead to a decline in the manatee population," U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, wrote to the head of the federal agency Monday. "I urge you to withdraw this proposal."...

  8. Those Florida mug shots aren't always funny

    Human Interest

    Since 1949, Florida prisoners have been stamping the words "Sunshine State" on our license plates, despite most of our cities getting more annual rainfall than famously gloomy Seattle.

    These days, though, the Legislature should change our nickname to "The Punch Line State." We're constantly producing stories about kooky crooks, crooked politicians and other wackiness that get circulated worldwide....

    [ CAMERON COTTRILL | Times ]
  9. Dispute over snail kite puts Everglades restoration at risk

    Wildlife

    Known for its curved bill, square tail and red eyes, the Everglades snail kite has been a fixture on on the federal endangered species list since the first one was issued in 1967.

    Yet, after decades of fending off extinction, the snail kite finds itself in the cross-hairs of a standoff between state and federal bureaucrats that could imperil already strained efforts to restore the Everglades. ...

    One of the snail kite birds nesting on Lake Okeechobee carries a snail to its nest. There are only about 400 snail kites in the country. Experts fear that if the lake drops any lower, the snails the birds eat will be disappear and the birds will leave their nest in search of food. [Associated Press (2011)]
  10. Florida: Black bear population on the rise, reaches 4,350

    Wildlife

    Last fall, when hunters killed far more bears than expected during Florida's first bear hunt in 21 years, the state's top bear expert said that was a sign that there were more bears in the woods than anyone knew.

    A study unveiled Thursday backed that up, finding 4,350 bears prowling the woods, or about 60 percent more than the population found by a similar study 14 years ago.

    "The good news is that bears are abundant in Florida," said Thomas Eason, top bear expert at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission....

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission announced the results of a 2015 survey that found 4,350 black bears prowling the woods of Florida.
  11. Lake Okeechobee flood control creates environmental disaster

    Water

    ON THE CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER — The rains poured down in late January. Twelve inches in all, 11 inches more than normal.

    Clewiston and Belle Glade flooded, as did thousands of acres of sugarcane and vegetable fields. Lake Okeechobee reached 15 feet, then 16, threatening to break free of an aging dike.

    The Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates lake levels, knew it had to do something drastic to protect Clewiston and other small towns to the south....

    John Cheshire says effects of the &#65279;release can be seen in the gulf.
  12. Environmental group petitions to have Florida black bears protected as endangered species

    Wildlife

    ST. PETERSBURG — Hoping to block more hunts, the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to have Florida's black bears protected under the Endangered Species Act.

    "Without Endangered Species Act protection, the Florida black bear could once again find itself on the precipice of extinction," says the petition filed Thursday....

    &#65279;A young Florida black bear trips a motion-sensing camera in the pine flatwoods of the Hendrie Ranch in south-central Florida. Black bears could be found in every county in Florida in the early 1800s but have been restricted to seven increasingly isolated subpopulations by habitat loss to land development. This photo was made on a working cattle ranch.
  13. Hulk Hogan leads fans to safety after building shifts and autograph session is cut short

    Accidents

    What was supposed to be a routine autograph session with wrestling star Hulk Hogan on Saturday turned into an emergency evacuation when the hundreds of people lined up in Hogan's Clearwater Beach shop suddenly felt the building move.

    The bandanna-wearing Hogan, whose popularity as a pro wrestler in the 1980s led to what was dubbed "Hulkmania," has been making headlines again lately as the plaintiff in a high-profile $100 million privacy lawsuit against the website Gawker over a sex tape. A St. Petersburg jury was seated to hear the case involving Hogan — whose real name is Terry Bollea — on Friday....

    Masks for sale in Hulk Hogan's Beach Shop. - Hulk Hogan has opened his own store, Hogan's Beach Shop, on Clearwater Beach. It sells T-shirts, beach gear and memorabilia from the Hulkster's career. Ron Howard, is the store's manager and Hogan's partner in the store.   [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
  14. Teenage pilot makes emergency landing with vintage plane on St. Petersburg golf course

    Accidents

    ST. PETERSBURG — A fairway became an airway Saturday afternoon when a vintage plane piloted by an 18-year-old made an emergency landing on the 12th fairway at the St. Petersburg Country Club.

    The plane was one of a trio flying from Lakeland to Manatee County, but it had begun experiencing mechanical problems. The teen's father, in one of the other planes, recommended landing at Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Rick Shaw....

    Damage to the wing of the single engine aircraft is seen after the plane made an emergency landing on a golf course in Lakewood Estates in St. Petersburg on Saturday afternoon, March 5, 2016. [ZACK WITTMAN  |  Times]
  15. Company hired to sell Florida state park souvenirs online had abysmal first year

    Environment

    Last year Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials began looking for ways to make the state park system generate enough money to cover 100 percent of its expenses.

    DEP Secretary Jon Steverson has talked about allowing hunting, timber-harvesting or cattle-grazing in parks — controversial ideas that have generated extensive discussion and debate.

    But one potentially profitable pursuit for the award-winning park system is already up and running. In December 2014, the Florida Park Service partnered with a three-month-old private company to sell park souvenirs online, offering everything from a plush toy flamingo for children to moisture-wicking polo shirts for adults, all carrying a logo that says "Florida State Parks."...

    Timothy Farrell founded Florida4You with his wife to get the park service contract.