- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s “ecogrief” training is more widespread than originally thought, having already been conducted in “many” of the agency’s regions, according to an internal email obtained by The Washington Times.

But the agency has been struggling to fill all the seats in its upcoming round of training on Friday, with 10 of the 35 slots unclaimed as of Tuesday.

“We still have some available seats for this training, open to anyone,” Katherine Hill, the organizer, pleaded in an email to colleagues. “The intent of this workshop is to take care of our people who work in these challenging circumstances: to help you all build resiliency, recognize stressors, understand loss and be empowered to take care of yourselves.”

Ecogrief is the name some psychologists have given to distress that some feel over a changing environment.

FWS, an agency within the Interior Department, is paying $4,000 for each virtual session, funded through the agency’s regular budget for employee training and development.

A spokeswoman said the training is being offered in response to “a request from employees.”

The training, first reported last month by The Washington Times, has become a lightning rod for criticism.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, who served as Interior Department secretary in the Trump administration, said if someone had brought the idea of ecogrief training to him, he would have thought it was a joke.

“I’d kick ‘em out of the office, whoever thought of proposing it,” the Montana Republican told The Times.

Mr. Zinke now sits on the subcommittee that oversees the department’s funding, and he said it’s a cinch that Republicans will strip out funding for this sort of activity — and then go looking for other boondoggles.

“There’s not a chance we’re going to let this go,” he said. “The question is, if this can make it through an approval process somewhere, what else is out there? What else are taxpayers paying for?”

Transgender Day of Visibility

Some FWS employees cast the ecogrief training as the latest in a line of agency initiatives they said are pushing a “woke” agenda on employees.

The Interior Department announced its first-ever Transgender Day of Visibility summit, to be held March 29.

“Hear inspiring stories from DOI colleagues, learn the many paths to being an ally, discover best practices for supporting employees in the workplace, and celebrate the significance of this day with our colleagues, leaders and keynote speakers,” the department told employees.

The summit, which is being run virtually, spans more than four hours of a midweek workday.

Employees also questioned the contents of mandatory diversity training.

One trainer identified to employees as nonbinary gender queer and insisted employees not use the label “man.”

One employee said that was particularly odd for the Fish and Wildlife Service, a science agency where biologists are trained to know and categorize animals as male and female.

Ecogrief is part of a family of new terms to describe distress. It’s also 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 association, in a 2020 article, acknowledged that “not much is known about climate grief” and said there were no clinical studies on how to treat it.

But the group speculated that the worries strike younger people more than older people and also 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 association said.

The FWS training is being provided by Tom Kalous, a psychologist who specializes in workshops on emotional intelligence; Michelle Doerr, a wildlife biologist who has offered previous courses to FWS on self-care and cooperative language; and Jimmy Fox, an FWS employee.

The Times reached out to Mr. Fox for a comment on the ecogrief training but did not receive a reply.

The ecogrief training is voluntary. The course The Times was made aware of is being offered to FWS’ southwest region, which covers Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

Friday’s session will be followed by another on April 5.

Waste of time’

Ms. Hill, the organizer pleading with employees to sign up, said the training previously had “been offered in many of our other regions with great response.”

FWS, in its statement to The Times, said the training has been done in Alaska and in the agency’s southeastern region.

Ms. Hill said in her email to employees that the training met an agency core value of “caring for people.”

“The ever-changing challenges impacting our conservation work, our neighbors and the communities we live, work and recreate in including droughts, wildland fires, declines or loss of species, declining habitat and impacts to public outdoor recreation add up,” she said.

Rep. Tom Tiffany, Wisconsin Republican and member of the House Natural Resources Committee, called the training a “colossal waste of time and resources.”

“The Interior Department should maybe focus a little less on promoting fringe environmental fanaticism in the workplace and a little more on better land management practices and lowering prices at the pump,” he said.

Rep. Harriet Hageman, in a speech on the House floor last month, called the training “another instance of the insanity of wokeism that is permeating our society.”

The Wyoming Republican vowed to take steps to halt the spending.

“For our friends at the Fish and Wildlife Service who may be watching this speech, you may want to take that ecogrief seminar now, before we legislate it out of existence,” she said.

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

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