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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 three 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), all published by the University Press of Florida. 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. Study finds Everglades pythons like saltwater mangroves as much as freshwater marshes

    Wildlife

    For five years, scientists tracked the 19 Burmese pythons around the Everglades, following their radio and GPS signals. They were hoping to learn where the invasive snakes prefer to live.

    The answer is: pretty much everywhere. They live in the trees, and they live underground. They mostly thrive in freshwater marshes — but there was one that, to the scientists' surprise, found a home in the saltwater mangrove swamp at the Florida peninsula's southern tip and stuck around for quite a while....

    An expert demonstrates safe handling techniques with a 13-foot-long Burmese python during the kickoff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission's 2013 Python Challenge.
  2. State officials ponder cattle ranching and more to make money off state parks

    Environment

    The new boss of the state Department of Environmental Protection, Jon Steverson, wants to make the award-winning Florida State Park system pay for itself.

    That means letting some things into the parks that until now have been kept out. Timber companies chopping down the state's trees. Cattle grazing on taxpayer-owned grass and leaving behind cow pies. Metal cell phone towers looming over the tallest pines, palms and oaks....

    The DEP has been putting together a request for cattle ranchers to bid on taking over 6,630 acres of the 37,000-acre park, which hasn’t had any cattle in it since the state bought it in the 1930s. The proposed lease documents, which have not yet been released publicly, include a number of requirements to limit the impact from the cows’ grazing and subsequent fecal output.
  3. Core samples show parallel between Deepwater Horizon and 1979 spill that also used dispersant

    Water

    After the offshore rig sank into the sea, the oil flowed for months before anyone could stop it. Millions of gallons of crude tainted the Gulf of Mexico. To try to dissipate it before it reached shore, the rig's owner sprayed an unprecedented amount of chemical dispersant on the slick.

    That's what happened with the Deepwater Horizon disaster that began five years ago today off the coast of Louisiana. That spill of BP oil has continued causing ecological damage such as a die-off of dolphins and lesions on redfish, among other marine species....

  4. Study finds high incidence of respiratory problems in oil spill cleanup workers

    Environment

    Thousands of people who were hired to help clean up after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are experiencing problems with their respiratory systems that may be tied to their exposure to the oil, according to an ongoing government study of the spill's health impacts.

    The incidence of wheezing and coughing among cleanup workers that BP hired was 20 to 30 percent higher than among the general public, Dale Sandler, chief of the epidemiology branch of the National Institutes of Health, said Friday....

    An oil cleanup worker is coated in oil as he helps remove residue washing ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 1, 2010, in Gulfport, Miss.
  5. State wildlife officials vote to bring back bear hunts (w/video)

    Wildlife

    TALLAHASSEE — Despite opposition from 75 percent of the people who wrote and called, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to bring back bear hunting this fall.

    The hunt — the first in 21 years — is tentatively scheduled for one week in October. It is expected to result in the killing of up to 200 bears. The commission has slated a final vote for its June meeting, but bear-hunt opponents acknowledged they have no chance of stopping it now....

    Bryan Wilson of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida protests outside Wednesday's Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting included one man dressed in a bear suit and wearing a target on his chest.
  6. Bear hunt on agenda for Florida wildlife commissioners this week

    Wildlife

    For 21 years, it has been illegal to hunt the black bear in Florida. That may change in the fall.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets this week to decide whether to give tentative approval to rules for a revival of bear hunting, banned since 1994.

    If commissioners give the proposed rules a green light on Wednesday, then a final vote would come at their June meeting....

    Critics question the need for a hunt since the bear population is not known.
  7. Florida taxpayers pay ranchers millions to hold water back from Lake Okeechobee

    Water

    For generations, Florida's farmers and ranchers have used their land to grow oranges, sugar, tomatoes and beef cattle, among other things. But now they've added a highly profitable new crop:

    Water.

    A state agency is paying large agricultural operators millions in taxpayer dollars to hold water on their property, treating it as if it were a crop. The agency sees it as a way to create a series of "reservoirs" without the expense of building anything permanent....

    The Caulkins Citrus Co. in Martin County is being paid to retain 6,780 acre-feet of water at $76 per acre-foot. By contrast, an audit found putting the water on public land instead of private would cost the taxpayers just $8 per acre-foot.
  8. Suspect in police officer's killing said he was in a mood to kill, records show

    Crime

    Just hours before the fatal shooting of a Tarpon Springs police officer in December, court records show the man accused of shooting him told a man at a party that he was in a mood to kill.

    Marco A. Parilla Jr., 24, was at a party in Holiday before the fateful encounter with Officer Charles Kondek, 45, in the early hours of Dec. 21. Parilla chatted with another partygoer who noticed a Glock in his pants pocket....

    Marco Parilla, Jr., center,  pictured at his first court appearance, is accused of killing Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek.
  9. Latest manatee count breaks all-time record with more than 6,000

    Wildlife

    Biologists tallied a record number of manatees this winter, counting more than 6,000 of them scattered around the state, according to numbers released Monday.

    During the February aerial survey, a team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida's east coast and 2,730 on the west coast, for a total of 6,063. That's nearly 1,000 more than the previous record, set in 2010....

    The previous record number of manatees counted in Florida was about 5,000, in 2010.
  10. 'Climate change' ban boosts Florida's image as the Punchline State (w/video)

    Global Warming

    There's that sound again: people around the country laughing at Florida.

    "So the Florida Department of Environmental Protection can't use the term 'climate change'?" comic Larry Wilmore asked on The Nightly Show on Wednesday. "That's like telling Rudy Giuliani he can't use the word '9/11.' "

    Comics, cartoonists and columnists have all jumped on the story, broken by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, in which former DEP employees said no one at the state agency was allowed to use the terms "climate change," "global warming" or "sustainability." As the story has gone viral, it has turned into one more way the Sunshine State has become the Punchline State....

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott fields questions from reporters about climate change on March 9, 2015, in Hialeah. Scott said, "It's not true,'' that the Department of Environmental Protection has banned the terms "climate change'' and "global warming.'' [Getty Images]
  11. Environmental group wants to stop people from swimming with the manatees

    Wildlife

    An environmental group wants to stop all the "swim with the manatees" businesses that over the past 40 years have become the foundation of Citrus County's tourism industry.

    Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed notice Monday that it intends to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over protections for the endangered animals. The suit, filed on behalf of four Citrus County environmental activists, calls for the federal agency to halt any program that lets humans get within 10 feet of a manatee....

    A manatee inspects a snorkeler while swimming in Kings Bay in Crystal River in December. Though manatees are an endangered species, businesses are allowed to offer tours to swim with the creatures.
  12. Federal wildlife officials adopt permanent protection measures for Three Sisters manatees

    News

    After receiving about 5,000 written comments, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to make permanent most of its proposed measures for protecting manatees that seek winter refuge in Citrus County's Three Sisters Spring.

    The move comes about three weeks after a story went viral about the agency's decision to temporarily close human access to the spring because more than 300 manatees had crowded in. One animal-centric website, the Dodo, headlined its story: "300 Manatees Throw Massive Party In Wildlife Refuge, Literally Shut The Place Down."...

    Officials with the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday morning instituted an emergency closure of Three Sisters Springs in order to safeguard the approximately 300 manatees that had packed into the canal that leads to the springs. The closure will remain in effect until at least midday Wednesday -- possibly longer -- in order to "keep them undisturbed for as long as possible during this cold spell,'' said Ivan Vicente, visitor services specialist for the agency. An aerial survey of manatees in the area is slated for Wednesday, and Vicente predicted a possible record number due to the cold weather. The old record is 567 in Citrus County waters. Vicente also said that he measured the outside air temperature at the Springs at 25 degrees at sunrise. During times of cold weather, Manatees take haven into the springs, in which the waters run about 72 degrees throughout the year. [CHRIS ZUPPA   |   Times]
  13. Amendment 1 passed by a wide margin but now all that cash is up for grabs

    Perspective

    AMID ALL THE NASTY ATTACK ADS, one political commercial that ran on Florida television stations last year stood out for sheer beauty. It opened with clouds scudding across the Everglades, a rainbow arching over a stand of mangroves and a girl swimming in a spring.

    "What's more important than protecting Florida's natural areas?" the narrator asks. "For water. For wildlife. For people." Vote for Amendment 1, the ad said, if you want to "protect and restore" Florida's "drinking water, lakes, beaches, lakes, rivers and springs." ...

    STEVE MADDEN   |   Times illustration
  14. King Ranch slips into history for GOP

    Blog

    This month marks the height of the hunting season at the majestic King Ranch in Texas, where some of Florida's top elected officials have visited courtesy of U.S Sugar.

    Yet for the first time since 2011, records show, the state's Republican elite have yet to make the trek west. U.S. Sugar -- which has much at stake this year with lawmakers rewriting the state's water policy -- continues to contribute sizable amounts in cash, but the company has stopped paying for the secret trips to King Ranch....

  15. Florida GOP leaders have stopped taking King Ranch trips from U.S. Sugar

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — This month marks the height of hunting season at the majestic King Ranch in Texas, where some of Florida's top elected officials have visited, courtesy of U.S. Sugar.

    Yet for the first time since 2011, records show, the state's Republican elite have yet to make the trek west. U.S. Sugar — which has much at stake this year with lawmakers rewriting the state's water policy — continues to contribute sizable amounts in cash, but the company has stopped paying for the secret trips to King Ranch....

    Incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, says that, unlike his predecessors, he will not revive the King Ranch hunting trips as part of his job raising money for the 2016 House races. “I want the fundraising to be open and transparent,” Corcoran said.