- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service is offering “ecogrief” training to employees who are struggling with a sense of trauma or loss as they witness a changing environment.

The class will give staffers a chance to define what they mean by ecological grief, space to examine their emotional reactions and tools to grapple with those feelings, the agency said in a note to employees in the Southwest region, where the training is offered.

Those who sign up will be led to “find ways to act while caring for themselves.”

“This 4-hour workshop seeks to normalize the wide range of emotional responses that conservationists experience while empowering participants to act while taking care of themselves,” the notice said. “The workshop is intended for those experiencing ecological grief and for those who wish to support them.”

The workshop is being offered twice to employees in the Southwest, which covers Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Up to 35 people can attend a workshop.

The Washington Times sent multiple inquiries to Fish and Wildlife for this article.

The agency responded to the initial inquiry by asking for more details on the notice, but it did not provide answers to The Times’ questions, including queries about cost or whether regions besides the Southwest were offering similar training.

Congressional Republicans panned the course as a boondoggle.

“When I first heard of the ‘ecogrief’ class sponsored by FWS, I thought this was a joke,” said Rep. Pete Stauber, Minnesota Republican and member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“This is taxpayer waste, plain and simple, and our House Republican majority will be holding this administration accountable,” he said.

Ecogrief is part of a family of terms to describe distress. It also has been labeled “climate grief” or “ecoanxiety.”

The American Psychological Association says it can manifest as a sense of being overwhelmed by the immensity of changes to the environment, or even a sense of “anticipated loss” — essentially mourning what someone believes to be inevitable, particularly with climate change.

The APA acknowledged in a 2020 article that “not much is known about climate grief” and said there were no clinical studies on treatments.

The APA speculated that the worries strike younger people more than older people and hit indigenous people harder because they are more likely to be upended by a changing climate.

Climate scientists and activists would make for particularly acute sufferers, the APA said.

One Fish and Wildlife employee, who asked not to be named, pointed to a massive backlog of projects at the agency and said there are better ways to spend money than on ecogrief training.

“The FWS is in absolute crisis when it comes to funding and staffing,” the employee said. “Most refuges I know have lost 50 to 60% of their staff over the last 12 years. And yet consider how much time, money, energy and staff time is being spent on spreading the woke message.”

The employee cast the ecogrief training as part of a larger push toward that “woke” agenda.

Other examples include having employees take part in LBGTQ pride events while wearing agency clothing, complete with a special “FWS pride” rainbow logo.

“Would the FWS support its employees having a booth and being dressed in uniform and while on the clock supporting a pro-life festival?” the employee asked rhetorically.

Capitol Hill Republicans echoed those sentiments.

“While taxpayer dollars are spent on this woke class in a university faculty lounge, the very same agency is uplisting the Northern Long Eared Bat to endangered and overburdening America’s rural communities,” Mr. Stauber said. “Sadly, this is just another example of the Biden administration putting woke politics above doing their jobs or helping rural America.”

Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican whose Arizona district is part of the FWS region where the training is taking place, called the course “nonsensical and a complete and total waste of resources.”

He blasted the “climate warming hoax” and “constant scare-porn news stories” that spawn the anxiety that the ecogrief course seeks to address.

“The treatment is not a four-hour course but to understand that CO2 is necessary for life on earth. It is not a poison to be feared,” he said in a statement to The Times.

Besides, he said, “if you really want to get anxious, think about a possible coming ice age. A warm earth creates prosperity, abundant food and growth. A colder earth results in death and starvation. The last mini-ice age (1100-1800) wreaked havoc in the Northern Hemisphere.”

The public has also resisted the idea of ecogrief.

When the University of Washington offered a seminar on environmental grief and climate anxiety several years back, it was greeted with derision, according to the teacher, Jennifer Atkinson.

She said she wasn’t so upset at the barbs aimed at herself as a teacher, but she was amazed at the chiding her students had to face. She said they should have been praised for signing up for the class and confronting the issue.

“That doesn’t make them snowflakes. It makes them badasses,” she wrote in a 2018 piece for High Country News.

Ms. Atkinson shared an example of ecogrief by pointing to a wildlife photographer who specialized in capturing images of albatrosses that die from consuming plastic trash. She said the photographer held some of the birds in his hands as they took their final breaths.
Ecoanxiety.com suggested other examples, such as the aftermath of wildfires.

“Eco-anxiety isn’t a recognized medical condition. But general anxiety is, and eco-anxiety has many of the same characteristics,” the website said.

The training session is being led by Michelle Doerr, a wildlife biologist who teaches Nature in Counseling at the Adler Graduate School; Tom Kalous, a psychologist who specialized in workshops on emotional intelligence; and Jimmy Fox, a Fish and Wildlife employee.

The notice to employees offering the class admonished those pondering signing up to make sure they follow through.

“Do not register if you cannot participate for the entire workshop,” the agency said. “It’s disappointing to turn people away before the workshop and then have registrants not show for the training.”

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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