January 8th - 12th

ENN rounds up the most important and compelling environmental news stories of the week. In the news January 8th - 12th: A warm 2006, belugas at risk, cracking down on illegal logging, an "evolution explosion," and much more.

Top Ten Articles of the Week

In the news January 8th - 12th: A warm 2006, belugas at risk, cracking down on illegal logging, an "evolution explosion," and much more.

1. Warm December Pushes 2006 to Record Year
Last year was the warmest on record for the United States, with readings pushed over higher than normal by the unusual and unseasonably warm weather during the last half of December. Preliminary data from the National Climatic Data Center listed the average temperature for the 48 contiguous states last year as 55 degrees Fahrenheit. That's 2.2 degrees warmer than average and 0.07 degree warmer than 1998, the previous warmest year on record.

2. Cook Inlet Belugas Face Extinction Risk
The beluga whales swimming off Alaska's largest city are at considerable risk of going extinct unless something changes, a federal study says. The study by the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle says if the Cook Inlet belugas go extinct, another group of the white whales probably won't come in to swim the silty waters off Anchorage.

3. EU, Indonesia Target Illegal Logging Pact
The European Union and Indonesia, home to most of the world's orangutans, have agreed to negotiate a pact aimed at helping stop illegal logging which is threatening their habitat, the EU said on Tuesday. The voluntary accord, once complete, will provide assurance that Indonesian forest products imported to the EU are verified as legal.

4. Bush Lifts Oil and Gas Drilling Ban for Alaska Bay
President Bush lifted a ban Tuesday on oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay, an area known for its endangered whales and the world's largest run of sockeye salmon. The action clears the way for the Interior Department to open 5.6 million acres of the fish-rich waters northwest of the Alaska Peninsula as part of its next five-year leasing plan.

5. Japan and EU Urge Big Polluters to Cut Emissions
Japan and the European Union urged major polluters such as the United States, China and India on Thursday to work harder to curb greenhouse gas emissions. "It is very important that all countries concerned make their very best efforts to achieve the Kyoto protocol targets," Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a news briefing after talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

6. Warming Could Spur 'Evolution Explosion'
Fast-growing weeds have evolved over a few generations to adapt to climate change, which could signal the start of an "evolution explosion" in response to global warming, scientists reported Monday. This means that the weeds will likely keep up with any attempts to develop crops that can adapt to global warming, said Arthur Weis, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

7. EPA Rejects Proposed Lumber Treatment
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday rejected an industry request to use a chromate-based wood preservative for lumber in decks and playground equipment, saying it poses a risk of cancer and other health problems. The Forest Products Research Laboratory had requested that EPA approve the residential use of the preservative acid copper chromate, or ACC, on pressure-treated lumber.

8. Warm Europe Winter Has Pollen Lingering
Europe's unseasonably mild winter is nothing to sneeze at. Or maybe it is. Experts warned Austrian allergy-sufferers on Wednesday that some species of trees are already flowering and about to release pollen -- an annual phenomenon that's usually not a problem until well into spring.

9. Studies Find Northeast Mercury Hotspots
Mercury levels near some coal-burning power plants are five times higher than previous government estimates, calling into question how the Environmental Protection Agency identifies biological hotspots and prompting a Maine senator to propose a national monitoring system.

10. Mystery of World's Biggest, Yuckiest Flower Solved
It's the world's biggest flower, and maybe the stinkiest, too. And now scientists have used genetic analysis to solve the long-standing mystery of the lineage of the rafflesia flower, known for its blood-red bloom measuring three feet wide and its nauseating stench of rotting flesh.

Photo: Department of the Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that the Fish and Wildlife Service will propose listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The primary threat to polar bears is the decrease of sea ice coverage due to climate change. Credit: Scott Schliebe/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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