The Fish and Wildlife Service downplayed the scope of its training for employees to handle “ecogrief,” telling Congress on Thursday that no more than 150 employees took the classes and calling the sessions “small bore.”
Stephen Guertin, the agency’s deputy director for policy, said the agency is still working to compile all the details of the training in response to a request from lawmakers.
Early data suggests the training was limited, he said.
“It was not mandatory. It’s pretty small bore,” he told the House Natural Resources Committee.
The ecogrief classes, first revealed by The Washington Times last month, were meant to help the federal employees cope with anger or a sense of loss over changes to the environment, particularly from climate change.
Ecogrief is part of a family of new terms to describe the distress, along with “climate grief” and “ecoanxiety.”
SEE ALSO: Sobbing spring: Feds struggle to fill seats for ‘ecogrief’ training session
The American Psychological Association said in a 2020 article that “not much is known about climate grief” and no clinical studies had been conducted on how to treat it.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they began offering their training in response to a request from employees. Training classes last four hours and are open to as many as 35 people.
Mr. Guertin said four or five classes have been held so far, at a total cost of about $10,000. The numbers he gave suggested that attendance has not been great.
“Actually, I think about 100, 150 may have been on a couple of webinars. There were probably four or five webinars total,” he said.
The most recent session was on March 10 in the agency’s southwest region.
Another session was planned for April 5.
SEE ALSO: U.N. doomsday report warns of ‘climate time-bomb’ unless globe ditches fossil fuels
Mr. Guertin didn’t reveal whether that session was still scheduled.
In a letter earlier this month, Republican lawmakers urged the agency to put an end to the whole thing.
“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,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and colleagues wrote.
On Thursday, Republicans mocked the training.
“You understand how ridiculous this looks to normal people with 9-to-5 jobs across the country,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, California Republican.
Rep. Thomas Tiffany, Wisconsin Republican, pointed out that the hearing also was looking at legislation that would force the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist the grizzly bear as an endangered species. The agency has supported the move in the past, but lawmakers said officials are slow-walking the plan under President Biden.
“Will this bill and hearing that we’ve introduced, will it trigger an ecogrief training for some members of your agency?” Mr. Tiffany asked.
“No, sir,” Mr. Guertin said.
Some agency employees have said the ecogrief training is the tip of an iceberg of woke policies infecting the agency.
They pointed to mandatory diversity training and attempts to refashion the vocabulary of employees.
One 2021 document warned against “microaggressions” and urged employees to avoid terms such as “spirit animal” because it belongs to American Indian culture and warned that the term “Indian” has “fallen out of favor,” with “indigenous peoples” now preferred.
The document said using phrases such as “his or her” is disrespectful because it “presents gender as an either/or” option. “Queer,” once considered derogatory, is back in fashion with a generally positive connotation, the guidance said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Stephen Guertin, the deputy director at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His name was incorrectly listed by the House committee he was appearing before.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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