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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. Homosassa water supplier fears new Suncoast leg will pollute its well field

    Water

    To some people in Citrus County, the second leg of the Suncoast Parkway would be a tremendous economic boost, spurring new development in areas now far off the beaten path.

    But to the 6,000 people who get their water from the Homosassa Special Water District, the new toll road is a pollution threat.

    The road's stormwater retention ponds would be located next to — and upstream from — the water district's Peach Orchard well field, which produces more than 7 million gallons of water a day. Both are atop a highly porous geological formation known as karst, which is made of easily dissolved limestone riddled with holes and channels....

    Two runners pass underneath the Suncoast Parkway as they run along the Suncoast trail on Wednesday afternoon, January 27, 2016 in Tampa. [ZACK WITTMAN | Times]
  2. Getting it wrong: Suncoast Parkway set to expand even as it fails to meet projections

    Growth

    Before the Suncoast Parkway opened, a consultant predicted that it would be so full of cars its toll booths would rake in $150 million a year by 2014.

    That forecast wasn't close. Nor were the next two. The consultant eventually settled on a forecast of $38 million a year.

    But when 2014 rolled around, the road was so empty it collected a mere $22 million.

    Yet the Florida Department of Transportation now wants to spend $256.7 million to extend the Suncoast another 13 miles north through Citrus County. And the projections the DOT is relying on to justify what has been dubbed Suncoast 2 are from the same consultant that got the first phase so wrong....

    Northbound and southbound lanes remain empty on the Suncoast Parkway on Wednesday afternoon, January 27, 2016 in Tampa.
  3. Controversial toll road could wipe out historic turpentine camp

    Growth

    ETNA CAMP — To someone strolling along the edge of the woods, the tangled metal straps, shards of broken pottery, and bits of crumbled bricks on the ground look like litter.

    But to an archaeologist like Scott Bierly, the items are artifacts of a bygone era, relics from when men toiled amid heat and insects to collect tree sap and refine it into turpentine.

    The Etna Camp, on state-owned land in the Withlacoochee State Forest, is so important an archaeological site that it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places....

    A shard of pottery from the Etna Camp shows the size of many of the artifacts left from the old turpentine camp in Citrus County. Although the camp is on the National Historic Register, Florida officials have routed a controversial toll road, the second leg of the Suncoast Parkway, through the site. [CRAIG PITTMAN | Times]
  4. Florida's second Everglades python hunt expected to bring hundreds of hunters

    Wildlife

    The thousands of Burmese pythons slithering around the Everglades eating everything in sight have little reason to worry about this, but hundreds of hunters are descending on South Florida this weekend for the state wildlife commission's second Python Challenge.

    The python hunt starts today and runs through Valentine's Day, with a $1,500 prize for catching the most snakes and $1,000 for the biggest snake. So far the contest has attracted only 573 hunters, a third as many as the first one did in 2013. ...

    U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, left, and wildlife commissioner Ron Bergeron search for pythons in the grassy underbrush on an island in the Everglades during the 2013 Python Challenge. [Associated Press (2013)]
  5. Water bills ready for quick vote but environmental groups want to slow it down

    Perspective

    Florida has some serious water woes: spreading nutrient pollution, the algae-choked springs and, in the Indian River Lagoon, massive sea grass and wildlife die-offs.

    Yet for the past two years, the Legislature has failed to deal with the problem. Politics got in the way.

    In 2014, everyone from Gov. Rick Scott to a coalition of environmental groups and a consortium of business and industry groups said the Legislature needed to take swift action on water issues. ...

    [ CAMERON COTTRILL  |  Times ]
  6. It's official: Feds want to reclassify manatees as something less than endangered

    Wildlife

    Nearly 50 years after Florida manatees appeared on the first-ever federal endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it's time to call them something other than endangered.

    "We believe the manatee is no longer in danger of extinction," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy regional director Michael Oetker said in a Miami news conference Thursday.

    The agency says manatees are now merely "threatened" — still in need of protection but no longer in such dire circumstances, a change that in Florida can affect everything from development regulations to funding for enforcement....

    A manatee with her two-year-old calf in Crystal River.
  7. The price of cheap gas? Boaters killed more manatees in 2015 than prior year

    Wildlife

    ST. PETERSBURG — Florida's boaters killed more manatees last year than they did in 2014, according to figures released Tuesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Speeding boats killed 87 manatees in 2015, 14 more than the number of boat-related deaths the year before.

    "It's on the high side," said Martine DeWit of the institute's Marine Mammal Pathology Laboratory in St. Petersburg. "Watercraft are still the biggest threat to the manatee population, long term."...

    An aerial survey last year reported 6,063 manatees, the most ever. Since 1974, Florida biologists have conducted animal autopsies to determine the cause of death for every manatee found dead.
  8. Gators, goat sacrifice and a Darth Vader robber — Florida got weirder in 2015

    Human Interest

    Florida is America's Weirdest State. Let's just agree to that as a first principle. Weird things happen everywhere there are human beings, of course, but more weirdness happens in the Sunshine State and it tends to be weirder.

    For proof that this is a fact, look no further than a few of the stories that happened here in 2105 — stories with headlines like "Deerfield Reptile Store Owner Hits People With Pet Dragon" and "Alleged FIU Foot Sniffer Arrested."...

    A man wearing a Darth Vader mask tried to rob a Jacksonville Beach 8 til Late convenience store in November, police said. [Image from surveillance video via Jacksonville Beach Police Department]
  9. DEP drops plan to launch cattle grazing pilot program in Myakka River State Park

    Environment

    Florida's top environmental official, Jon Steverson, has been pushing all year to get the state parks to make more money by adding hunting, timber harvesting and cattle grazing.

    But now one of those appears to be off the list.

    Department of Environmental Protection officials wanted to run a pilot project with cattle grazing leases at Myakka River State Park near Sarasota to see how well it worked. The proposal generated intense local opposition....

    Tourists return after an air boat tour of the Upper Myakka Lake at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota County. Visitors can also use a fishing pier and see an alligator exhibit. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  10. Florida tops 20 million in population

    Blog

    THE THIRD LARGEST STATE IN THE UNION — Prognosticators have been saying it for years: Florida will surpass 20 million in population.

    Such projections are no longer necessary. The U.S. Census Bureau made it official Tuesday.

    Florida's population in 2015 was 20,271,272.

    Only California (39,144,818) and Texas (27,469,114) had more, according to the bureau.

    Read more....

  11. It's official: Florida joins the 20 million club

    Growth

    Wag your elbows. Flap them as if you're a bird. Enjoy that feeling of freedom now, because elbow room in Florida is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida's population has now topped 20 million people.

    Prognosticators have been predicting this would happen for years, the way they've been predicting the number of Florida tourists would someday top 100 million. ...

    Crowds on Clearwater Beach this spring are just one sign of a rapidly growing population. Demographers predicted Florida, third behind California and Texas, would surpass the 20 million mark.
  12. Poll: To boost state park revenue, hike fees or let cattle in

    Environment

    Nearly 40 percent of Tampa Bay residents say those who use state parks are the ones who should pay to make them more profitable, according to a poll of 605 registered voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

    Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, 42 percent say the state could boost revenue by leasing portions of parks to ranchers for cattle grazing, according to the Dec. 3-10 Tampa Bay Times/WTSP 10News poll....

    A scene in the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  13. Famed manatee Rosie, longtime resident of Homosassa Springs park, dies

    Wildlife

    One of the oldest captive manatees in Florida, Rosie, has died at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, park staffers confirmed Friday.

    Her age was estimated to be in the 50s. The cause of death appears to be cancer -- a posthumous exam found a tumor, said Martine deWit, who oversees the state's marine mammal pathology lab in St. Petersburg.

    Park staffers often described Rosie as the "matriarch" of the springs. Rosie was known for looking after the younger manatees at the park, leading to jokes that Rosie was their babysitter....

  14. Red Tide bloom kills fish and leaves some Pinellas beachgoers coughing

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A Red Tide algae bloom that has plagued Charlotte and Sarasota counties for months recently moved north into Manatee and Pinellas counties.

    Now fish kills have begun littering the waters and beaches around Pass-a-Grille, Boca Ciega Bay, the Sunshine Skyway and Terra Ceia Bay, said Kelly Richmond, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg....

  15. Motorist kills Florida panther, setting record for road deaths of state animal

    Wildlife

    About 8 a.m. Tuesday, an anonymous driver helped Florida's panthers — the state's official state animal — set a new milestone.

    The driver hit a 1-year-old female panther on Keri Road in Hendry County, making it the 26th panther to be killed by a car or truck this year. That's a record.

    The driver did not stick around afterward, said Mark Lotz, a panther biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission....