Make us your home page

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=""> "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


Twitter: @CraigTimes

  1. Oh, Florida! We should all be thankful for the lady accused of shoplifting while dressed as a turkey


    The other day, I had a lovely chat with a lady who was arrested on charges of shoplifting ... while she was dressed as a turkey.

    I guess you could say that she's been accused of doing the wrong kind of stuffing.

    The lady's name is Irene Leonhard and she lives in The Villages, the largest gated over-55 community in the world, a place where everyone rides around in golf carts, even people in turkey outfits....

    Irene Leonhard, who lives in The Villages, put on a turkey costume to pass out candy at a Belk's store. She was arrested after police said surveillance cameras caught her swiping purses, an electric snow globe, jewelry and a waffle maker. [Photo courtesy of Irene Leonhard]
  2. Three decades of panther capture-and-collar program may come to an end


    500 FEET ABOVE THE BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE — Biologist Darrell Land holds his left hand out flat, as if he's playing paper in a rock-paper-scissors game, then tilts it to the right. Pilot Don Graham banks the Cessna Skyhawk at a 45-degree angle and begins circling a clump of cypress trees.

    As the plane circles, Land, 58, listens on his headphones for the radio signal that tells him where in those trees a Florida panther is hiding. Once he's located the endangered cat, he signals to Graham to level off. As Land types the data into his laptop, they zoom off to search for the next target....

    Dennis Graham, Rex Air Flight and Maintenance Center flight instructor, over Picayune Strand State Forest near Naples.
  3. Florida's most endangered butterfly may not have survived Hurricane Irma


    Hurricane Irma didn't hurt the endangered Key deer, but it may have all but wiped out the most endangered butterfly in Florida.

    Since the storm passed through in September, only a single Miami blue butterfly, another resident of the Keys, has been spotted there, according to Marc C. Minno, co-author of the book Butterflies of the Florida Keys.

    Even if a couple more turn up there, Minno said, "they're doomed. They're found only on these isolated islands in areas that take the full brunt of hurricanes and sea level rise."...

    The male Miami blue&#8217;s wings are iridescent blue on top.
  4. Ghosts of bad decisions haunt Florida highway


    Let me tell you a ghost story.

    No, I'm not talking about some ectoplasmic special effect from Disney's Haunted Mansion. I'm talking about a real ghost story. A Florida ghost story.

    You wouldn't think a place that's this bright and sunny would be a hangout for sinister shades, but it is. You find them all over Florida, from the haunted Pensacola Lighthouse up in the Panhandle to the infamous "Robert the Doll" on display in Key West, also known as "the original Chucky." ...

    Tampa Bay Times staff writer Craig Pittman.
  5. Florida's 'Turtle God' is ailing. What happens to his remarkable collection of specimens? (w/video)


    OVIEDO — In a small town about five miles from the University of Central Florida there stands a two-story yellow house built in the 1920s. A modest sign mounted on the wall next to the front door says, "Chelonian Research Institute."

    Step inside that door and you'll find the largest private collection of turtle and tortoise specimens in the world — 13,000 individual pieces from 100 different countries, hanging on every inch of the walls and lining every table and shelf. Live ones crawl slowly around enclosures or swim in ponds around back....

    African Solcata tortoise at the Chelonian Institute in Oviedo Florida. - Peter Pritchard sounds British but he's lived in Florida for five decades, running the Chelonian Institute in Oviedo Florida, which holds the world's largest collection of turtle specimens (some of them bones or shells, some of them live turtles or tortoises). Time magazine has declared him a hero of the planet and other turtle experts say he is to turtles what Dian Fossey was to gorillas. He's been instrumental in helping other species, too, including the Florida panther. He has traveled the world studying turtles.
  6. St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Baker goes to church


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayoral candidate Rick Baker took his campaign to Bethel Community Baptist Church on Sunday. It's not uncommon for politicians from both parties to stop in at the church and speak to the congregation -- Gov. Rick Scott visited in 2014..

    Baker entered shortly after the service had started, and brought with him his wife and a group of supporters: former Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter president Sevell Brown, former assistant police chief Cedric Gordon, reitred police sergeant Al White.and retired major Donnie Williams. ...

  7. Lake O hits highest level since 2005, raising concerns its dike could fail


    Rainfall from Hurricane Irma has pushed the water level in Lake Okeechobee to its highest point since 2005. Now, with more wet weather in the forecast, nearby residents fear a collapse of the 80-year-old dike around the lake.

    As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dumping large volumes of lake water out into coastal estuaries — exactly as it did last year, when those releases caused a massive toxic algae bloom that closed Atlantic coast beaches over the Fourth of July weekend....

    A 2006 photo of the Herbert Hoover Dike in Port Mayaca on Lake Okeechobee. The dike around the lake is classified as one of the most vulnerable in the nation. The earthen embankment on the south end is older, and thus more in danger of being breached, officials say. [Associated Press]
  8. Study: Dispersant used to clean 2010 BP oil spill harmed humans


    A first-of-its-kind scientific study has determined that the dispersant BP sprayed at the oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010 harmed human health.

    The symptoms — coughing, wheezing, skin irritations and burning eyes — tended to last only a little while for most of the people who were cleaning up the spill, said Dr. Dale Sandler, who's leading the study for the National Institutes of Health....

    In this 2010 photo, a dispersant plane passes over an oil skimmer as it cleans oil in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana. A first-of-its-kind scientific study has determined that the dispersant BP sprayed at the oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon rig harmed human health. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  9. Oh, Florida! Irma's gone, but she left behind plenty of lessons for us


    I don't want to make light of the misery and death that Hurricane Irma inflicted on Florida this month. A lot of it was ugly, and some of it was downright criminal. We saw greed and pettiness on display, and it brought illness and death.

    We also saw heartwarming images of courage and kindness. We saw a nun with a chainsaw cutting up downed trees after learning about chainsaws on Google, and a man who gave up the last generator so that someone who needed it more could have it....

    A Fort Myers woman who'd recently undergone a double-organ transplant painted a sign that said, "HOT SINGLE FEMALE SEEKS SEXY LINEMAN TO ELECTRIFY HER LIFE" and sure enough, she got her power turned back on. [Photo from video]
  10. Irma roughs up endangered snail kites, birds that help us gauge the Everglades' health


    Hurricane Irma was as rough on some wildlife as it was on the humans. Audubon of Florida reported Thursday that the storm destroyed all 44 nests around Lake Okeechobee built by the endangered Everglades snail kite, a bird considered crucial to the River of Grass ecosystem.

    HURRICANE IRMA: Read the latest coverage from the Tampa Bay Times....

    Hurricane Irma destroyed 44 snail kite nests, capping off a poor mating season for the endangered species, which is seen as an important barometer of the health of the Florida Everglades. Their off-center beaks allow them to probe inside the spiral shells of the native apple snails. But the snails' population has dropped as the Everglades has changed. [MAC STONE | Audubon of Florida]
  11. Why Irma drained the water from Tampa Bay


    Nobody could believe it. As Hurricane Irma approached Florida, Tampa Bay suddenly went dry. People hopped down onto the bay bottom, now a vast sandy expanse, and walked around, stunned.

    There are different terms for what happened: "a negative surge," "a blowout tide," a "water level set-down." Whatever you call it, what occurred in Tampa Bay was one of the five biggest ones ever, according to Texas storm surge expert Hal Needham....

    Scores of people walk on the sand of Hillsborough Bay along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa on Sept. 9. As Hurricane Irma approached, the water temporarily receded to an extreme level allowing people to walk on what used to be the waters of Tampa Bay. Tampa police later asked people to leave for their safety. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]
  12. Got Hurricane Irma questions? Here are some answers


    We're now four days into the post-Irma era in Florida, and people still have questions about the aftermath and recovery. Here are a few answers.


    After Irma hit here, I'm going to have a hard time paying my mortgage. Will the mortgage company foreclose on me?

    Maybe not — it's up to you. Because Florida has been declared a federal disaster area, that means you can get your mortgage payment waived for a set amount of months, with no damage to your credit. It's not automatic, though. You have to contact your mortgage lender and apply for it. Each lender may have a different set of rules, so be sure you know what you're getting into before you say yes to this....

    A sunken houseboat lies at a small marina behind a hotel on Clearwater Beach on Thursday after the passing of Hurricane Irma.
  13. Questions answered about Irma aftermath and cleanup


    We're all still recovering from Hurricane Irma, and lots of people have questions about dealing with the aftermath. Here are some answers.


    I still see lots of traffic lights are out. Does that mean I can just ignore them?

    No. At intersections where the stoplights aren't working, treat them like a four-way stop. Because Florida drivers apparently don't know how to maneuver through a four-way stop, here's a short reminder: Pull up to the line and stop. Look both ways for traffic. If there isn't any, proceed. If there are other cars at the intersection — this is crucial — then each one can proceed in the same order in which they arrived at the stop. If two cars arrive at the intersection at the same time, then the one to the right has the right of way. No matter what, though, pause and look both ways before you hit the gas....

    Jean Chatelier walks through a street in Fort Myers that was flooded from Hurricane Irma on Tuesday after retrieving his uniform from his house to return to work at Publix. &#8220;I want to go back to work. I want to help,&#8221; said Chatelier, who walked a mile each way.
  14. Your questions answered about Irma cleanup and damage assessment


    Now that Hurricane Irma is gone, it's time to assess the damage and start the cleanup. Here are some questions people are asking, along with answers.


    I evacuated ahead of Irma. I'm tired of living like a refugee. Can I go home now?

    Maybe. The evacuation orders are being lifted in stages, so watch for the official announcement for your area. If you live in an evacuation zone, you may need to show deputies some identification before you're allowed back in. The bottom line here is to be patient and don't rush back. Take your time and wait for the official all clear....

    Westbound traffic backup due to checkpoint on Madeira Beach Causeway, on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
  15. Irma forecast wasn't as far off as you may think, experts say


    As the monster storm Irma approached, some people in South Florida fled to the Gulf Coast, hoping to be safe there. Instead, after clobbering the Keys, Irma followed them, wobbling to the east and taking a course that came right up the state's western edge with a landfall at Marco Island.

    Did the National Hurricane Center get the forecast wrong?

    "An analysis of the track forecast and intensity error of the storm won't be done for a few weeks, at the earliest," Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said Monday....

    This forecast graphic from the National Hurricane Center on Sept. 7 shows Irma's final path well within the cone of uncertainty. NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER