The House Natural Resources Committee demanded answers Tuesday from the Fish and Wildlife Service over its ecogrief training for employees and warned that a full investigation could ensue unless the agency cancels the course and uses the money for more important priorities such as saving endangered animals.
Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas led committee Republicans in denouncing the training as “extremely tone deaf” at a time when the Fish and Wildlife Service is struggling to calibrate its mission of habitat and species conservation.
“We are deeply concerned that this kind of meaningless pandering is a colossal waste of taxpayer funding, does nothing to further the purpose of the USFWS and diverts important resources away from critical agency functions,” Mr. Westerman and the other lawmakers wrote to the agency.
The letter was first obtained exclusively by The Washington Times, which revealed the ecogrief training last month.
The agency begged employees to sign up for the class. It said the training would offer a chance to work through feelings of stress or despair at the changing environment, particularly climate change.
“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,” organizer Katherine Hill said in her email to employees last week ahead of one round of training in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
To Mr. Westerman, it sounded like bunk.
“We and many of our constituents are appalled to see our tax dollars funding ‘ecogrief’ workshops instead of science-based, environmentally sound policies,” he and his colleagues said in a letter to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams.
They demanded documents and emails detailing why the agency decided to offer the training, including who gave the go-ahead. They also asked about the cost and which part of the agency’s budget was funding the training.
“The USFWS should immediately divert the funding for these workshops to activities that further the mission of the agency, like habitat conservation and species recovery,” the lawmakers wrote. “Anything beyond this goal will prompt swift oversight from the Republican House majority.”
A Times email Tuesday to Ms. Hill, the training organizer, was not immediately returned.
Ecogrief is part of a family of new terms to describe distress. It also has been labeled climate grief or ecoanxiety.
The American Psychological Association said ecogrief 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 how to treat it.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s ecogrief training is being offered to employees in the Southwest. One session was held last week, and another is scheduled for early April.
As of the middle of last week, 10 of the 35 seats for Friday’s session were still unfilled.
The agency told The Times that each session costs $4,000.
The course was previously offered in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska and Southeast regions.
An agency official said the class was offered in response to “a request from employees” but was unable to share any reaction from participants in those earlier sessions.
Fish and Wildlife Service employees have told The Times that the ecogrief training is part of a broader push for a woke agenda.
They said a growing focus of the agency — and its budget — is conducting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility training, or what practitioners call DEIA.
That includes sessions encouraging employees to talk about their gender identity and preferred pronouns and to confront social injustice ingrained in the culture.
One 2021 document warned against microaggressions and recommended the use of the term Latinx to refer to people with roots in Latin America. It also urged employees to avoid certain terms such as ecosystems and urban sprawl and use substitutes such as natural areas or poorly planned growth.
The agency is also in the middle of what it calls a Values Journey, with Values Jam sessions designed to get input about where the Fish and Wildlife Service is headed in its “purpose, values and associated behaviors.”
“We must show our commitment by supporting employees’ leadership and participation in groups, initiatives and activities that support advancing DEIA and create welcoming workplaces,” Ms. Williams said in a memo to employees.